The Scottish Rugby Union is poised to take a step into the unknown by buying a stake in a professional rugby club in the United States.
A bid has been made for a minority share in Old Glory DC, an expansion club based in Washington DC who are expected to join Major League Rugby (MLR) in 2020.
The franchise, owned and run by Paul Sheehy, is one of three East Coast teams that will join the nine-strong league from the start of next season, along with sides in Boston and Atlanta.
MLR is the second attempt to grow a professional rugby league in the USA after Doug Schoninger’s initial “Pro Rugby” attempt failed amidst recriminations about unpaid wages from the likes of former All Blacks full-back Mils Muliaina amongst others.
The league, which runs from January through to June, is currently in the midst of its second year, and has been deemed a moderate success by most pundits.
While a team such as the Austin Elite struggle to attract a four-figure crowd, last year’s champions, the Seattle Seawolves, sell out their compact 4,500 stadium for every home match.
Mark Dodson, the SRU’s chief executive, pictured, will look upon this as more than a simple financial transaction.
He will see any investment as an opportunity to place a few, promising young players and/or coaches in a league where the standard is respectable and improving all the time.
There is a limit of ten foreigners per 23-man playing squad in MLR. Scottish Rugby already has an agreement with Nice in what is France’s third division, although they didn’t take a stake in the club.
Should MLR take off, Murrayfield will be well placed to benefit. Everyone wants a slice of the American sporting pie although both Harlequins and the RFU were badly burnt, each reportedly losing £1.4 million when Rugby International Marketing (RIM), the marketing arm of Amercan Rugby, ceased trading last year.
That didn’t stop Twickenham from hiring the man who sold them the stake in the first place. Nigel Melville, the former chief executive of Rugby America, is now doing the same job on an interim basis with the RFU.
It is not known what sum of money was involved. One French investor is said to have bought 10 per cent of the New York MRL franchise Rugby United for $600,000, pricing the entire franchise at a cool $6 million, but New York commands a healthy premium given its location.
If Murrayfield secures a stake in the Washington franchise it is unlikely to pay anything like that sum for a share of what is a high risk, start-up venture.
Owner Sheehy has an excellent reputation as a businessman – he made his money selling cars – but Washington DC is not a rugby hotspot and if he is expecting local club players to fill his Old Glory roster he may be in for a rude surprise.
According to Wikipedia, the franchise have just two players signed up, although the next season doesn’t start for another ten months.