The Toronto Arrows see themselves as Canada’s team in the same way as the Toronto Raptors and Blue Jays do as the only Canadian franchises in the NBA and MLB, respectively.
The lone Major League Rugby franchise in Canada wants be a moveable feast for fans across the country and will play an MLR regular-season game against the defending-champion Los Angeles Gilitinis tonight at 7 at Starlight Stadium (TSN).
“We’re trying to build a brand across the country in rugby, much like the Raptors and Blue Jays have in basketball and baseball with their national followings,” said Bill Webb, president, majority-owner and co-founder of the Arrows.
“The Island has a great rugby community — Canada’s Test matches always do well here — and tickets are selling really well for the first MLR game here,” said Webb.
“We want kids across the country to see us and be inspired to play rugby and perhaps make the pro level themselves.”
Toward that end, the Arrows players held a development camp Wednesday night at UVic’s Wallace Field that attracted hundreds of youth players from across the Lower Island. (Also on hand to instruct were members of the Canadian women’s Tokyo Olympics rugby sevens team).
If MLR sounds like something, the nod to Major League Soccer is intentional. It gives young North American players a pro option on the continent without having to look overseas.
“We hope to do with pro rugby in North America what the MLS did for pro soccer in North America following the  World Cup in the U.S.,” said Webb.
For the Arrows, that will be without benefit of having the national team play in the 2023 World Cup in France, as Canada did not make it after having qualified for all nine previous editions. The Arrows see themselves as part of the rebuild to the 2027 World Cup with about 50 per cent of the Toronto club roster made up of capped Canadian players.
“Chile [which stunned Canada in 2023 Americas regional World Cup qualifying] has one pro team from which most of its national team comes from,” noted Webb.
“They had a plan and followed it. We are now following that kind of plan as we look to World Cup 2027, for which qualifying will begin in three years.”
Arrows star player Lucas Rumball, who has captained Canada and has 42 caps, sees MLR as a big step forward for rugby in this country.
“Having a Canadian pro team is huge,” he said.
“When I was growing up, I had no pro rugby opportunities in North America. Now our best young players do have that. And it’s great to see that the Arrows have a base of support in Western Canada.”
There are 13 teams in MLR, which was established in 2018. Each team plays 16 regular-season games and operates under a salary cap of $515,000 US. Player salaries are capped at $45,000 US. That is modest by New Zealand, South Africa, U.K. or France pro standards, but it’s a promising start for professional rugby on this continent and it gives the best players here a pro option closer to home.
“It’s an important step,” said Rumball.
MLR has TV contracts with CBS and ESPN with the 2021 league final at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, won 31-17 by the Gilitinis over Rugby ATL of Atlanta, drew an audience of 478,000 on CBS. That’s not Super Bowl numbers but not bad for rugby in North America.
“This will be the first time a regular-season MLR match has been played in a Canadian province outside of Ontario and we couldn’t be more excited,” Langford Mayor Stew Young said in a statement.
Tickets are available at the Arrows website or by going to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Arrows opened the 2022 season last week with a 21-8 loss to the Seawolves in Seattle while Los Angeles lost its season opener 21-11 to the Houston SaberCats.