In the wake of Houston’s historic weekend that saw more than 5,000 fans attend their opening preseason game against the Seattle Saracens, Seawolves owners Adrian Balfour and Karl Harrison have confirmed that they are in advanced talks to bring a Major League Rugby franchise to Vancouver. Temporarily named ‘Vancouver RFC’, the team is intending to launch in time for the 2019 season pending final approval of the MLR board – of which Balfour is a founding member – in late January.
Once the board negotiations are complete the search for an expanded investor group will kick into high gear as well as securing staff and infrastructure, and of course a home field suitable for at least 2019. One position has already been filled, however, with Curry Hitchborn appointed Director of Rugby. The highly-rated UBC Thunderbirds coach is currently employed in a similar role with the Seattle Seawolves but will shift his focus north at season’s end.
In a media release Balfour explained the decision to support two Pacific Northwest sides.
“MLR is a huge step forward for rugby in North America. As a founding member of the MLR board I have seen professional rugby grow rapidly as existing MLR franchises expand and new locations explore bids. In the Pacific Northwest we’ve already received huge support from the local community getting behind the Seattle Seawolves. Season tickets for 2018 are well on their way to being sold out and the addition of a team in Vancouver will create a great natural rivalry during 2019.”
The news is very welcome to Canadian fans who have been calling for professional rugby since the 2016 PRO Rugby season. While that competition ultimately failed, there is considerable excitement surrounding the inaugural MLR season and enough infrastructure already in place to suggest the new startup could be a long-term success. If all goes as planned Canada could have two teams in 2019, with the Ontario Arrows already up and running and set to play a series of exhibition matches starting in March.
Should the Vancouver team come to fruition as expected it would not replace the existing BC Bears provincial program. The Bears will continue as an amateur side in Canada’s national regional competition, the Canadian Rugby Championship, along with the Ontario Blues, Prairie Wolf Pack, and Atlantic Rock. With players from all four regional sides expected to play for the Arrows in 2018 and several Canadian players already signed to MLR sides, it could have a positive effect on the 2018 Canadian Rugby Championship with Major League Rugby contracts potentially on offer.