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Halifax Wanderers' success has owner considering a pro rugby team
Professional soccer returned to the Maritimes on the weekend and the response was impressive.
More than 6,000 fans turned out for the Halifax Wanderers’ first game.
Now, the team's president and founder is wondering if there's an appetite for professional rugby.
It's an idea that has some fans and sports administrators excited.
“Much like I thought soccer would be successful in the market, I think rugby has a chance to be successful as well,” said Derek Martin, the president of the Halifax Wanderers.
He says he's now exploring the idea of a partner sport to play alongside the Wanderers.
“Ithink soccer and rugby fit so well together,” he said. “The field sizes are almost identical, so it’s easy to switch from one sport to the other.”
Martin has been in talks with team owners from Major League Rugby, a North American professional rugby league with nine teams.
It would be two summer pro franchises for martin to operate, and would give the Wanderers Grounds two tenants.
That would mean more fans, more advertising, and more revenue.
“We've certainly taken a look at it,” Martin said. “We've had conversations about it. I think it would smart for us to explore all opportunities.”
The Halifax market has already been tested for rugby.
In June 2018, the Wanderers Grounds hosted a USA-Canada international exhibition match and seven months ago the Toronto Arrows and the New England Free Jacks played a game in Nova Scotia.
Rugby Nova Scotia president Geno Carew says a professional team would provide the sport with a big boost at the grass roots amateur level.
“It gives those young players people to look up to, something to aspire to, the ability to see rugby as more than a leisure activity,” Carew said.
Former rugby player, and current fan, Devin Gourley would gladly stand in line to buy a ticket.
“It's a fast-paced game,” said Gourley. “I grew up being a football fan. Once I got into high school, I took a liking to rugby. It's a game that's always appealed to me.”
Martin says there is pent-up hunger for summer sports and entertainment in Halifax.
He's hoping pro rugby, like soccer, will help satisfy that demand.
On Canada Day weekend, the Wanderers Grounds will also host a rugby festival with youth rugby matches and some senior teams playing in Canadian Super League finals.
It's being done to further test the market with fans.
Martin says he's taking a slow and steady approach.
Within a couple of years, he hopes to be ready to make a move and try to bring a pro rugby team to Halifax.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Paul Hollingsworth.