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Women's Elite Rugby seeks funds as new U.S. league

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Apr 11, 2024
Illustration of a rugby ball mid-flight in the air with a U.S. flag trailing behind in place of motion lines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Women's Elite Rugby (WER) announced on Wednesday its launch, along with news that it is actively raising a pre-seed funding and planning a seed round for this summer.

Why it matters: The creation of the first professional women's rugby 15's league in the U.S. is the latest investment opportunity within the women's sports boom.

Context: WER was launched on the back of the Women's Premier League (WPL), an amateur rugby league created in 2009 that operates as a non-profit. The 2024 WPL season starts this month.

  • Speaking Wednesday on an Axios-moderated virtual panel for Schmooze, WER board member Jenny Houlihan said the board formed about a year ago to create a for-profit league.
  • "As can't be overstated, I think the current climate is encouraging the professionalization of women's sports," Houlihan says. "The reason for the change in model is that we want to be able to pay front-office salaries ... coaching, travel, player welfare, as well as individual player payment."
  • The move comes ahead of the U.S. hosting the 2031 Men's Rugby World Cup and the 2033 Women's Rugby World Cup.
  • Premier Rugby Sevens is a U.S.-based league that launched in 2021 with men's and women's teams. "Sevens" rugby features 7-player sides, rather than the traditional 15-player sides.

Zoom in: WER has raised about 50% of its pre-seed round and expects to move into its priced seed round "imminently," Houlihan says.

  • Backers so far include family offices and private equity firms.
  • Houlihan says WER expects to be profitable by its third year.

What's next: WER plans to create six to eight teams with 30 players per team. The league is in talks with all seven WPL teams, which are in Boston, New York, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Berkeley, California, and Hayward, California.

  • The inaugural season is slated for 2025.

Editor's note: This story was updated to show that Premier Rugby Sevens, a league that features mens and womens teams, launched in 2021.

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