PRO Rugby

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PRO Rugby
PRO Rugby logo.png
Sport Rugby union
Founded 2015
Inaugural season 2016
Ceased 2017
CEO Douglas Schoninger
Country United States
Denver Stampede (2016)
TV partner(s) ONE World Sports
Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
Official website

The Professional Rugby Organization, known as PRO Rugby, was an American professional rugby union competition. PRO began play in April 2016 with five teams and ceased operations as of January 2017 , the competition was sanctioned by USA Rugby and by World Rugby. This was the first professional rugby competition in North America.[1]


Previous attempts[edit]

For several years prior to PRO Rugby's launch in 2016, a number of entities had explored a professional competition for fifteen-a-side rugby, the Rugby Super League, a national competition that began play in 1997, was discussed as potentially becoming a professional competition,[citation needed], but the RSL struggled financially, with several teams exiting the competition from 2009 to 2012[2] before the league folded after the 2012 season.[3]

In 2012, the American Professional Rugby Competition was reported to be exploring a launch of a ten-team league for 2015,[4] but nothing came of it.

The National Rugby Football League also announced its intention to begin a professional rugby competition and scheduled the Independence Cup, but the venture never got off the ground.[5][6]

PRO Rugby launch[edit]

In early November 2015, PRO Rugby launched its Facebook page and scheduled an announcement for November 9, 2015,[7] on November 9, 2015, PRO Rugby made an official announcement outlining its plans and a framework for the competition. USA Rugby affirmed that it sanctioned and supported the PRO Rugby competition.[8] PRO Rugby announced its first team, Sacramento, on November 18, 2015.[9] PRO Rugby announced its second team, San Francisco, on November 19, 2015.[10]

Though teams were scheduled to have coaches by the end of 2015,[11] the uncertainty caused by the open position for head coach of the U.S. national rugby team led to PRO Rugby announcements being put on hold.[12] As of mid-January 2016, with the U.S. head coach in place but no further developments from Pro Rugby, the league then offered the explanation that negotiating venues was what was holding up coach and player announcements but that three venues were close to agreement.[13] On January 22, 2016, PRO Rugby announced San Diego as the league's third team, and media sources started speculating that the league may have only five teams in 2016 instead of the planned six teams.[14] PRO Rugby announced on February 9, 2016 that the league's fourth team would be based in Columbus, Ohio. PRO Rugby officially announced on February 26, 2016 that Denver would be the competition's fifth team.[15]

2016 inaugural season[edit]

The league had planned to hold a player draft in early 2016,[11] and the league reportedly had begun extending contract offers to select players by mid-February; in early March, the league made its first official announcement regarding player signings when it announced that Italian international Mirco Bergamasco would be joining the Sacramento team.[16] Teams started convening their players in mid-March 2016 to begin training.[17]

The competition began play on April 17, 2016, the first weekend of PRO Rugby saw Denver win at home against Ohio 16–13 before 2,300 fans despite a snowstorm, and San Francisco defeated Sacramento 37–25 before a crowd of 3,400 in Sacramento.[18][19] The inaugural PRO Rugby Championship was decided in the last game of the season on July 31, 2016, with the Denver Stampede clinching the title by gaining a bonus point despite losing away to the Ohio Aviators 32–25.[20]

2016–17 off-season[edit]

During the offseason, Director of Rugby Steve Lewis left PRO Rugby, with no replacement named, it was later reported that Lewis claimed PRO Rugby and Schoninger owed him unpaid salary and expenses; Lewis filed a claim in court, went to the New York state labor board, and also filed a grievance with USA Rugby.[21]

The league had announced its intention to expand in 2017. Expansion was expected to include teams in the northeast United States.[22][23] PRO Rugby has stated that the 2017 competition format plans to include eight teams split into a west coast conference and a midwest/east conference.[24] Expansion had been anticipated to include Canada in 2017, with PRO Rugby close to agreeing to place teams in Toronto and Vancouver. Rugby Canada announced, however, on November 2, 2016, that an agreement with PRO for sanctioning in Canada for 2017 could not be reached, with the primary reason being their disagreement with an exclusivity clause that would have prevented Rugby Canada from sanctioning other professional rugby clubs in Canada in the future; in turn, PRO Rugby announced that it would no longer contract Canadian players.[25]

The league folded the San Francisco Rush in December 2016. Schoninger blamed the folding on the lack of a suitable venue, and on lack of support from the local media.[26]

All PRO Rugby players received notice on December 20, 2016 their contracts will be terminated in 30 days if progress is not made towards resolving disputes between the league and USA Rugby.[27]

Competition format[edit]

Each team played 12 regular-season games over 16 weeks: six home matches and six away.[28][29][30][31] Teams were awarded 4 points for a win, and 2 points for a draw.[31] Teams were also awarded 1 point if they lose by 7 points or fewer, as well as for scoring 4 or more tries in a match,[31] the post-season consisted of a single championship game. The season ran from April to July with the teams having a lighter schedule during the June international test window, a time when teams lost players to the U.S. national team.[30]


Locations of teams for the 2016 PRO Rugby season.

The league began play in 2016 with five U.S. based teams.[32]

The competition operated in a single-entity structure with all teams, at least initially, owned by the league, itself; individual investors own an interest in the competition but do not own individual teams.[5][33]

Former teams[edit]

Club name Metro area Stadium Capacity Head Coach Disbanded
Denver Stampede Denver, Colorado CIBER Field 1,915 Ireland Sean O'Leary 2017
Ohio Aviators Columbus, Ohio Memorial Park 3,000 England Paule Barford 2017
Sacramento Express Sacramento, California Bonney Field 11,442 United States Luke Gross 2017
San Diego Breakers San Diego, California Torero Stadium 6,000 Ireland Ray Egan 2017
San Francisco Rush San Francisco, California Boxer Stadium 3,500 United States Paul Keeler 2016


Each team had a roster limit of 30 players, five of whom could have been foreign players.[22] All player contracts were held by the league, not by the individual teams.[5] Players earned salaries, on average, of around $25,000, with national team players making closer to $40,000,[34] the top players in the competition earn close to $70,000.[35]

The following foreign PRO Rugby players have earned caps for a Tier One nation:

Player Team Accomplishments
New Zealand Orene Ai'i San Francisco Rush 2004–05 Sevens player of the year, Super 12 winner with the Blues in 2003
South Africa Pedrie Wannenburg Denver Stampede 20 caps for South Africa, Super 14 winner with the Bulls in 2007, 2009 and 2010, Heineken Cup runner-up with Ulster in 2012, Top 14 winner with Castres in 2013
Italy Mirco Bergamasco Sacramento Express 89 caps for Italy, played in the 2003, 2007, and 2011 World Cups, Heineken Cup runner-up in 2005, and Top 14 winner in 2004 and 2007 with Stade Français
Australia Timana Tahu Denver Stampede 4 caps for Australia (rugby union), 5 caps for Australia (rugby league), Super 14 runner-up with the Waratahs in 2008, National Rugby League winner with Newcastle Knights in 2001
New Zealand Jamie Mackintosh Ohio Aviators 1 cap for New Zealand, Air New Zealand Cup Player of the Year with Southland in 2008
New Zealand Mils Muliaina San Francisco Rush 100 caps for New Zealand, World Cup winner in 2011, played in the 2003 and 2007 tournaments
Tonga Kurt Morath San Diego Breakers 30 caps for Tonga, played in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups
France Jean-Baptiste Gobelet San Diego Breakers 162 caps for France7s, played in the 2013,

Heineken Cup runner-up in 2006 and 2010, and Top 14 winner in 2005 and 2006 with Biarritz Olympique

PRO Rugby also signed several US-capped internationals who had been playing professionally overseas:

Player Team Signed from
Ngwenya, TakudzwaTakudzwa Ngwenya San Diego Breakers France Biarritz Olympique
Bliss, TomTom Bliss San Diego Breakers England Wasps
Fry, EricEric Fry Sacramento Express England Newcastle Falcons
Coolican, TomTom Coolican San Francisco Rush Australia Sydney Stars


Matches were available to stream through or on cable through ONE World Sports. Initially, selected matches were available free to all online through, but this came to an abrupt and unexplained end.[36] Through the league's official website, all matches are streamed free to all viewers. ONE World Sports is offered by multiple cable and satellite providers and covers a range of sports, most notably a large selection of soccer.[37]

The league inked a deal with Time Warner Cable to provide streaming of games from Ohio on April 28, 2016.[38]


  • Douglas Schoninger – CEO
  • Dominic DeFalco – Assistant Director of Rugby Operations

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "USA to launch six-team rugby union competition in 2016", Fox Sports, November 9, 2015.
  2. ^ "USA Super League Rugby At Cossroads". Rugby Wrap Up. 27 July 2012. Archived from the original on 20 February 2016. 
  3. ^ "USA Rugby Domestic Preview: Divisions 1, 2 & 3". Rugby Wrap Up. 5 September 2012. Archived from the original on 20 February 2016. 
  4. ^ "North American Pro 15’s Competition Gunning For 2015 Launch", Rugby America, Ted Hardy, December 20, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c "US professional rugby union competition to begin play in April", Guardian, Martin Pengelly, November 9, 2015.
  6. ^ "America Gets a Pro Rugby Comp – and it Just Might Work", The Spinoff, Scotty Stevenson, November 9, 2015.
  7. ^ "Pro Rugby Announcement Coming Next Week", Goff Rugby Report, November 4, 2015.
  8. ^ "PRO Rugby Launches First Professional League in North America", USA Rugby, November 9, 2015.
  9. ^ "It's official: Sacramento will get team in nation's first pro rugby league", Sacramento Business Journal, November 18, 2015.
  10. ^ "PRO Rugby Officially Announces San Francisco", This Is American Rugby, November 19, 2015.
  11. ^ a b "Video & Notes From The PRO Rugby Sacramento Press Conference", This Is American Rugby, November 18, 2015.
  12. ^ "PRO Rugby headed to San Diego", Americas Rugby News, December 28, 2015.
  13. ^ "Why Venues Are Slowing PRO Rugby Announcements", This Is American Rugby, January 21, 2016.
  14. ^ "PRO Rugby Announces San Diego Team", This Is American Rugby, January 22, 2016.
  15. ^ "Denver Lands Final PRO Rugby Team", This Is American Rugby, February 26, 2016.
  16. ^ "Bergamasco To Sacramento", This Is American Rugby, March 9, 2016.
  17. ^ "US professional rugby a step closer as five teams begin training for kick-off", Guardian, Martin Pengelly, March 14, 2016.
  18. ^ ."Pro League Looks to Kick-Start American Rugby", New York Times, Emma Stoney, April 25, 2016.
  19. ^ "Sacramento and Denver win as PRO Rugby opens in snow and sunshine", The Guardian, Curtis Reed, April 18, 2016.
  20. ^ Bechtel, Nick (31 July 2016). "Ohio Aviators come up short of championship in final weekend". NBC4. Archived from the original on 2 August 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016. 
  21. ^ "PRO'S OUTSTANDING BILLS AT FOREFRONT OF USA RUGBY ROW", Rugby Today, December 21, 2016.
  22. ^ a b "USA Rugby takes next step in development with professional league", ESPN, Alexander Diegel, November 9, 2015.
  23. ^ "American pro rugby mogul hopes to add Vancouver team", The Province, September 1, 2016.
  24. ^ "PRO Rugby CEO Schoninger Gives League Update", This Is American Rugby, October 6, 2016.
  25. ^ "U.S. rugby league doesn't want Canadian players". CBC Sports. Retrieved 10 November 2016. 
  26. ^ "PRO RUGBY NIXES SAN FRANCISCO RUSH". Rugby Today. December 15, 2016. 
  27. ^ Clifton, Pat (2016-12-22). "Down Goes PRO". Rugby Today. Retrieved 2017-03-05. 
  28. ^ "PRO Rugby Unveils Inaugural Schedule", This Is American Rugby, March 8, 2016.
  29. ^ "Pro Rugby – The Inaugural Season". Retrieved 2017-03-05. 
  30. ^ a b "Another Pro Rugby Claim", Rugby Today, Pat Clifton, November 6, 2015.
  31. ^ a b c "Rules & Regulations". Pro Rugby. Retrieved 2016-06-26. 
  32. ^ "Pro Rugby to run rugby union competition in North America", BBC Sport, November 9, 2015.
  33. ^ "More On The Business Side Of PRO Rugby", This Is American Rugby, November 10, 2015.
  34. ^ "More Details On Pro Rugby", This Is American Rugby, November 9, 2015.
  35. ^ "The Entrepreneur Trying To Bring Professional Rugby To America", Forbes, Thobile Hans, June 14, 2016.
  36. ^ "PRO Rugby leaves AOL and Infinity Park". Americas Rugby News. Americas Rugby News. Retrieved 23 May 2016. 
  37. ^ "PRO Rugby partners with AOL, ONE". Americas Rugby News. Americas Rugby News. April 11, 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2016. 
  38. ^ "PRO Rugby inks deal with Time Warner". Americas Rugby News. Americas Rugby News. Retrieved 28 April 2016. 

External links[edit]