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NFL vs MLR (Major League Rugby): Revenue, Salaries, Viewership and Attendance

Written by: Richard Janvrin
Updated November 9, 2022
16 min read
Nfl Mlr

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To the untrained eye, watching rugby football being played on an open field looks a lot like an out of control fight between two gangs of muscular ruffians hell-bent on snagging a swollen white football, but there really is a total method to the scrambling madness of this contact sport that originated in Northern England back in 1895.

There are officially two ‘codes’ of rugby football – one with 13 players per team called ‘rugby league’ and the other with 15 players per team called ‘rugby union,’ – with both versions sharing the same origin and most of the same rules but with a few minor differences that are designed to make rugby league a faster game with the ball in play more often.

For the sake of this article, though, we are going to focus on just the more traditional rugby union and its emerging governing body in the United States, Major League Rugby (MLR), and compare it to the National Football League (NFL) in terms of revenue, salaries, viewership, and attendance.

Let’s start by understanding how rugby union compares to American Football when it comes to the basics.

Rugby union is what most people think of when it comes to rugby, and it’s basically a game based on running with the ball in hand, with two teams of 15 players each fighting to touch the oval-shaped ball on the ground of their opponent’s end goal.

American football, the sport played by the NFL, is the number one attended domestic sports league in the world, and its popularity has even outshone American’s oldest pastime, the sport of baseball itself.

Rugby is similar to American Football on quite a few levels, but the two sports are different in so many other ways that it’s a good idea to first break down these differences.

NFL vs MLR Similarities

Both American football and rugby:

  • Run, pass and kick a ball down the field in order to score points.
  • Have odd-shaped balls – the American football is technically a ‘prolate spheroids’ because that’s also the shape of an inflated pig’s bladder, which is what the first footballs were made from, as is the rugby ball, which is basically a swollen white football made of synthetic material nowadays.
  • Tackle the player with the ball.
  • Score points in an end zone.
  • Have various ways to score.
  • Have playoffs that culminate in a championship matchup.
  • Have a Hall of Fame.

NFL vs MLR Differences

Players and Their Gear

MLR vs NFL Similarities

  • NFL players need both speed and size, and they average in size anywhere from 5-foot-11 and 193-pounds (cornerbacks) to 6-foot-5 and 315-pounds (offensive line), but the average player being about 6’2” and 217-pounds.
  • The size of the average rugby player has shifted over the last four decades, evolving from 5’10” and 185-pounds back in 1974 to currently 6’2” and 216 pounds, which is about the same as the average American football players.
  • In American football, the players wear helmets and pads, but in rugby, the players wear rugby-styled jerseys, shorts, socks, and boots with some occasional headgear to protect their ears.


  • The NFL has 32 teams with 53 players on each while the MRL now has 12 teams (11 from America, one from Canada) made up of 23 total players each.
  • There are eleven NFL players on the field at any given time during a game, whereas there are 15 on an MLR field, their positions having interesting names like hooker, prop, lock, fly-half, wing, and full back.

Moving the Ball

  • In American Football, players can either run with the ball or throw the ball, but they can’t kick the ball to teammates, only to give the ball to the other team or for scoring.
  • In rugby, players can move the ball three ways:
    • Run forward with the ball.
    • Pass the ball – sideways or backward only (in American football known as ‘laterals’) with a forward pass resulting in a penalty and loss of the ball.
  • Kicking – Rugby players can kick the ball forward at any point, including attempting a kick through the uprights for three points.

Game Length

  • An American football game is divided into four quarters of fifteen minutes each, but there is an overtime period if the game is tied at the end of regulation.
  • A rugby union match has two forty-minute halves and ties, or draws, stand, each team receiving a point in the league rather than the two points they would have received for the win.


In the NFL, players can score in one of five different ways:

  1. Cross the goal line with the football to score a touchdown, worth six points.
  2. After a touchdown, the kicker can kick the ball through the uprights from 33 yards out, worth 1 point.
  3. After a touchdown, the team can try to cross the goal line from 2-yards out, worth two points.
  4. The offense can bring their placekicker onto the field at any point to attempt to kick the ball through the uprights, worth three points.
  5. Tackle an opposing player in his own endzone and it’s called a safety, worth two points.

In the MLR, teams score in three different ways:

    1. Try – scored by ‘grounding’ the ball (meaning to force it downwards onto the field) in the in-goal area of their opponent, worth 5 points.
    2. Conversion – after a try, the scoring team gets to kick a conversion with the ball placed perpendicular from where the ball was grounded as near or as far from the goal-line as the kicker wants, worth 2 points.
    3. Penalty kick or a drop goal (where the kicker drop-kicks the ball through the uprights), worth 3 points.

The NFL lists its scores like this: Cleveland 26, Pittsburgh 19, which means the Browns beat the Steelers by a touchdown.

The MLR lists its scores like this: Houston 6-13 Seattle, which means that the SaberCats lost to the Seawolves by a score of 6 to 13.

Tackling and Interference

  • In American football, it’s legal for the players to hit and tackle each other from the neck down.
  • In rugby union the players can only tackle the player with the ball below the shoulders and once tackled, the tackler must release the ball carrier, who in turn must release the ball.

Seasons and Championships

  • Both the NFL and MLR play 16 games in a regular season.
  • The NFL season culminates with 12 teams competing in a single-elimination tournament while the MLR season ends with 4 teams battling in the MLR Championship Series, with two semi-final matches followed by those two winners meeting in the Championship match.
  • The NFL decides that year’s champion by pitting the two best teams in a championship game called the Super Bowl, while the MLR’s best two teams face off in the MLR Championship.

And the list of differences goes on and on, especially when it comes to comparing the business aspects of the NFL and the MLR.
We compare the NFL and MLR, side-by-side.

Which of these two leagues makes more revenue?

Which sport do more U.S. fans prefer in 2020?

Which league is better preparing themselves for worldwide domination?

In this article, we’re going to answer those questions and a whole lot more as we examine and compare the NFL and the MLR – their revenue, salaries, viewership and attendance – and try to figure out which sports league is better positioning itself to be number one in America.

$16 billionTBA
Average Team Worth
$2.5 billionTBA
Average Salaries 
$1.9 million$58,425
Super Bowl vs MLR Championship
$500 millionTBA
NFL quarterback: $4 million/year
Average Championship Viewership
98.2 million people watched Super Bowl LIIIThe 2019 MLR Championship: San Diego Legion and the Seattle Seawolves received a 0.32 TV Sports rating or 510,000 two-plus households
Average Viewership
16.5 million/gameThe MLR programming ran in prime weekend time slots on Saturday afternoons and Sunday evenings, with 13 matches televised by the CBS Network, with the rest of the matches becoming the property of ESPN
180 million total viewers for the entire season
The NFL has by far more viewers than the MLR
Average Attendance
16.67 million total160,000 total
Ticket Price
The average price of an NFL ticket is $112 across all thirty-two teams in the leagueA ticket to see a rugby match costs about $30

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Which League Makes More Money, NFL, or MLR?

Which Championship Makes More Money, the Super Bowl or the MLR Championship?

Which Teams Are Worth More, NFL, or MLR?

What Is the Average NFL Salary Compared to the Average MLR Salary?

Which League Has Higher Ratings the NFL or the MLR?

Which is Viewed More, the Super Bowl, or the Grand Final?

Who Had More Fans Attending Games Last Season, the NFL, or MLR?

Who Has a Higher Average Ticket Price, the NFL, or MLR?

America’s Preference: the NFL or the MLR?


No sport that exists in the world right now brings in more total revenue or viewership than American football, though European football  (i.e. soccer) is starting to come close due to its growing worldwide popularity.

For more on how those two sports compare, check out our prior coverage on NFL vs MLS.

But for now, expect Major League Rugby to attract a far smaller, though thoroughly passionate, audience consisting of die-hard fans willing to help this fledgling league grow by showing up live to support the now twelve teams of the MLR.

And as cable television broadcasts more and more of these exciting MLR matches (especially the semi-finals and championship series), the sport of rugby could begin to find a growing level of popularity in a country that seems to love watching grown men tackle each other at full speed.

More Sports League Comparisons

We compare more major sports leagues to see how different they are when it comes to salary, budget, attendance, popularity, viewership, and more.








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Richard Janvrin

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After graduating from the University of New Hampshire with a BA in Journalism, Richard Janvrin has been covering iGaming and sports betting since December 2018. Richard has covered betting at Bleacher Report, Gambling.com, The Game Day, Forbes, and more.

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