Boston’s new professional rugby team has the financial backing of two New England Patriots players.
Veteran safeties Nate Ebner and Patrick Chung both hold minority ownership stakes in the New England Free Jacks, who began their debut season in Major League Rugby earlier this month.
Ebner and Chung began working with the nascent franchise shortly after its inception in Fall 2018, according to Free Jacks CEO Alex Magleby, but their involvement remained private until this week. Magleby, a former United States national rugby sevens captain, coach and general manager, explained Tuesday why he sought out the two Patriots as investors.
“I think the No. 1 thing is they both really understand performance sport, and that’s what we’re in,” Magleby told NESN.com. “We’ve created a model where we have a lot of professional (players) from overseas, and there are also locals. (Ebner and Chung) are at the forefront of performance sport in the United States, and they have been for a long time. And of course, Nate’s experience in rugby to augment that is really important. You have two folks who really understand the sports side of this whole thing.
“But beyond that, they’re both really intelligent, smart, and they’re good investors. They’re wise with where they put their money, and they’re involved because they’re good investors, and I think that’s a really important piece. They are committed to performance sport, they see the entertainment value of sport and what it can do for communities, and they’re both highly active in their communities — and just overall really good guys.”
Ebner, a 2016 Olympian, played rugby at the international level both before and during his Patriots career and has known Magleby for years, making him a natural fit for such a venture. Chung, who has played 10 of his 11 NFL seasons in New England, signed on despite having no rugby background.
“Patrick has seen the whole size of this business,” Magleby said. “He understands it. He understands what it takes to be successful as a professional sports person, and I can’t overemphasize enough how important that is in a burgeoning league to learn from guys who have done that and what it takes to grind and be a student of the game and get through very difficult seasons and adversity, and also understanding that it’s a business. There’s an entertainment component there, and it’s also for the good of communities. I think that’s a big piece of that, and Patrick represents that.”
After playing a series of exhibitions in 2018 and 2019, the Free Jacks made their official Major League Rugby debut Feb. 9, defeating 2019 MLR semifinalists Rugby United New York 34-14 in Las Vegas. A 39-33 loss to the Utah Warriors — one of seven original members of the league, which is in its third season and now features 12 teams — followed this past Sunday.
The Free Jacks next will play road games in San Diego, Seattle and New Orleans before hosting the Houston Sabercats in their home opener Saturday, March 14 at 4 p.m. ET on NESN.
“A lot of work continues to go into it,” Magleby said. “A lot of work has gone into it. I think the guys are responding really well. There was a bit of adversity heading into that second week. We (lost) pretty quickly some front-line players in key decision-making positions (to injuries), and I thought the guys who replaced them really stepped up. … It’s a young team that’s only been together for five weeks, so that’ll take some time. But the adversity will continue. If everyone is fit and healthy, it’s a good team. If we lose a few guys, it’s still a good team, but we’ve got to make sure we’re being pretty darn precise.”
It remains to be seen whether Ebner still will be with the Patriots by the time the MLR season concludes in June. The 31-year-old special teams standout is set to hit unrestricted free agency when the NFL league year opens March 18. Chung, who turns 33 in August, has two years remaining on his current Patriots contract.
NESN is the official regional broadcast partner of the Free Jacks. For the full team schedule and broadcast info, click here.
Thumbnail photo via Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports Images; Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images