USAR Board of Directors: No Plan for 10 years, No Accountability.  Time to go!  11

This article will address perhaps the most boring rugby topic imaginable, that of the Board of Directors of USA Rugby, and the responsibility of the USAR Congress to hold this Board to account.  It’s boring, but it’s important, and it affects the game in our country immeasurably.  For example, if you are reading this as the parent of a prospective ‘premiership’ level rugby player, the issues I discuss will be the legacy as we look forward 10 years and greatly affect your child’s future in the sport and/or his/her career.

Author’s Note: This article contains my opinion about the USA Rugby Board of Directors performance as it relates to our successes/failures as a Union both on and off the field.  I was nominated for a Board Seat during the last cycle and was not selected.  A few (and I limit it to only a few) people have mentioned on social media that my comments are ‘sour grapes’ about not being selected for the Board Seat.  I’d like to ensure anyone caring to read this knows that is the furthest thing from the truth. I played for the Eagles, and am proud – but also disappointed at the opportunities for success that winnowed away because we were so amateur.  We did our best.  Now, in the era of professionalism, we have no excuse. The young men and women currently involved in playing the game, particularly at the top levels, deserve a lot better than they have received from this Board.

I have reached out to dozens of executives in the business and sports business community to gain enough insight to be able to speak with 100% conviction.  As one colleague has said,  “we must deconstruct, in order to reconstruct”.   The only gain I want is for competent, caring, committed rugby people serving at the highest leadership level.  My writing also does not intend to offend any individual.  Every person on the Board is a good, solid, upstanding American citizen.  Many of them should serve on Boards in other aspects of life. For a Rugby Union Board, at the embryonic stage of our development as a Union, we must have members who can contribute to the things that uniquely make rugby, well… rugby.  There must be rugby knowledge.  If there were rugby knowledge the PRO debacle would never have occurred.  Our Board contains not a member (with the exception of the International Athlete positions, whose effectiveness has been in question, and is an IOC requirement) that has any significant rugby experience above club level. I’m not saying our Board members should have played for the Eagles, but there is an experience level required to understand the subtleties of the sport, both on and off the pitch. At least 2-3 of these individuals should have this experience to put us on par with all other global unions.

I recently published an article calling for the resignation of the USAR Board Members complicit in the sanctioning of PRO Rugby.  The blog has received tremendous response, and I don’t want to make that comment lightly or without total regard for the dignity of any servant to our game involved in the whole process.  The USA Rugby Congress must inquire into the background of the PRO sanctioning and demand those Board members complicit in it to resign.

It will not be long after that the Congress will be asking the same questions for the founding, legality, and business sense of RIM.  Again I ask, why are we selling the future value of American rugby assets now for cents on the dollar to overseas entities that actually ‘compete’ at some level with American Rugby?   All in the absence of any guiding plan/strategy.

I am calling on USA Rugby Congress to evaluate each and every Board member and their individual contribution and collective contribution to the betterment of rugby in America.

Here’s why: In a meeting at the home of a USAR Board member last summer, I asked about the sanctioning of PRO, which I detailed in my previous article. Hearing the reply, negligence was my first thought.  In the same meeting, I asked about fundraising. I had reviewed the 2014 USAR financial statements (publicly available on USA Rugby website).  I’ve always wondered why sponsorship has been so difficult, and I felt the number in the $2MM range to be extremely low.  Also, why does an American company like Visa sponsor the Puma’s, but nothing in the USA? I inquired of this Board member, if there was a marketing deck that is used in an initial sponsorship meeting, and if there was an “A, B, C” list of potential targets.  His response: “TR, I don’t know.  Nigel has asked us to leave all that to him”. Of course I was thinking to ask, “Well, what do the rest of you do?”, but decided against it.   Suffice to say, the same Board we have in play today is the same Board that admittedly gave Melville free reins regarding fundraising/sponsorship, and ultimately the creation of Rugby International Marketing, LLC, aka RIM.

In any sporting outfit, it is common to evaluate players and seek the best. If these players don’t pan out (i.e., lose more than they win), they get replaced.  The same thing happens with General Managers when evaluating coaches. This is a logical process.

However, as you go further up the ‘off the field’ activity ladder (I.e. administration at the highest level), I don’t believe this evaluation process exists at USAR.  It is the Board of Director’s job to hold the CEO of any organization to account for the performance and running of its organization. It also should participate in the ‘vision’, and support the Strategic Plan of the organization.

The performance of USA Rugby Board over the past 10 years has been nothing short of anemic, supporting the recently departed Nigel Melville as if he were a deity.  The story of how he actually was awarded the CEO job is a good one for anyone who cares to learn it.

The debacle finally exposed this week pitting PRO vs. USA Rugby is just the first of several significant Issues that will be brought to light.  It will define the Melville/Latham legacy.   At some point, the questions we need to know about Rugby International Marketing, LLC (RIM) need to be answered.  Please take a moment to read the issues. I have asked countless people to get an answer for my questions, but no answers.

The Congress must ask the Board individually, and collectively – “How could PRO be sanctioned, and an entity like RIM formed (subsequently selling shares of USAR’s future assets to overseas entities) in the absence of any overarching plan”? It is negligent.

Personal Experience

How can a Board, who’s responsibility it is to hold the CEO to account, go 10 years without an underlying plan to measure the CEO, and consider itself functional or competent?  A plan is the first thing a Board should look at.  It should contain the vision, the actual strategy, and varying levels of execution ideas.  It is what you use to conduct Board meetings and measure progress.  “How are we doing according to Plan?”, it’s the first question asked of me as a CEO by our Chairman.

If USA Rugby has had no plan for 10 years, I suggest it is not only Melville who failed us (who, at the last minute, incidentally  requested a Strategic Plan to be developed after the RWC2015 debacle), but the collective of the Board.  It is no wonder we now see the PRO problem, and the impending RIM meltdown.

Common practice one year after a major world championship (I.e. RWC2015), heading into a women’s world championship (2017 in Ireland) and post the first 7’s Olympic Games would necessitate writing a competent strategic plan (which must include a call for a comprehensive club audit and high performance audit).  In parallel,  we should perform a comprehensive audit into each of our board members tenure – what have they done on the three primary board areas (fundraising, strategy, and/or operational support).

This Board was not fit to hold Nigel Melville to account, and has less experience to do that now with the departure of Bob Latham, replaced by Dean Barrett.

USA Rugby now has a forward thinking, incredibly energetic CEO.  He requires a qualified Board to assist him in the massive task he has at hand. This Board has not been successful.

I call on the Congress to thoroughly review the USAR Board of Directors, collectively and individually and make some tough decisions about value. You must hold this Board accountable.  This is now your responsibility.  We know the plan is coming, do you trust this group to provide the duty of care required, but not evident in the sanctioning of PRO and founding of RIM?  This is the same group that gave Melville complete control, allowed for the sanctioning of PRO, and created RIM (a multi-million dollar decision) all in the absence of any written plan.  This would not be tolerated in any functional business organization.  It should not in ours.

Other Articles I have written on these topics:

  1. USA Rugby loses to Romania. Inhale, Exhale, and create the Strategic Plan!!
  2. A Letter to USA Rugby Congress re: RIM, PRO, Eagles, etc..
  3. USA Rugby CEO ‘Light’. Dan Payne an excellent choice; should we be more concerned with David Sternberg at RIM?
  4. USA Rugby’s Strategic Plan: It’s not about the Eagles, and it’s all about the Eagles!
  5. USA Rugby: Professionalism & The Strategic Plan (The most important thing you never cared about)

11 comments

  1. TR, you and I have discussed this several times. However, your detractors will note that there WAS a 2013-2015 Strategic Plan (Uncontrolled Copy here – https://goo.gl/DdBqE4) in place and they will use that to discredit your opinion (in certain corners, they already have). I think that it is important to actually address that plan and the severe lack of financial planning to support its operational objectives.

    IF the USAR BoD failed its constituency at anything in the last 5-10 years, it is in three things:
    1) Creation/Development of marketable rugby products.
    2) Development of multiple revenue streams for USAR and the American Rugby Community to support the continuity and improvement of those products
    3) Development and implementation of an actionable (at multiple levels from individual to club to NGB to USOC/WR and beyond) Strategic Plan to guide everyone involved in the game forward without neglecting anyone or one group.

    The opportunity is in place to make all three happen. Some of the Board members know it and are chomping at the bit to make it happen. Others? Not so much…

    Regarding RIM – I have been assured by some close enough to know that this concept will bear sufficient fruit for USAR, eventually. What concerns me with these verbal assurances is the lack of evidence to support the claims. Now, I understand that RIM is a private corporation that does not need to disclose methods to the public, so my concerns are my own and perhaps may change should Sternberg right that ship. RIM is a very uncomfortable “wait and see” issue for me.

    I think that Dan can/will do the job well. He has a strong team of rugby advisers, few, if any, of who tell him things he wants to hear.

    The Board does require some personnel rotated/aged out. Congress needs to make this happen.

    The American Rugby Community requires the realization that a) it possesses a marketable product and b) every single member of that community must work together to DO the various and sundry things necessary to make every single High School, College, and Senior Club rugby match and tournament the kind of events the American Sports Fan is interested in coming to watch in person and eventually on media outlets.

    Bottom Line: We all have work to do.

  2. Dear Guys, I’m writing to you from the south of South America (Chile). My boys are studying and playing and helping rugby to better develop up in the US. Before I send them overseas, I don’t remember why I read a copy of the Strategic Plan that USA Rugby published. I trusted it and thought that it was going in the right direction. Some delays more or less, but many of the objectives achieved. Just to mention one, sanctioning of a professional league in 2014. It was done in 2015 but you guys did it!! And I feel in a small part responsible, having sent my boys to help. After that plan, I haven’t been able to read any other. Maybe, and I would absolutely agree with this, I shouldn’t, as I am a foreign country citizen with no word, nor opinion about it, but I think that you at least need to work on it!. This is a point in which I agree with Tony.

    My humble opinion is that now is the time to get your hands in the dirt and work FOR it. Vision, Objectives, Challenges, etc. TR mentioned Visa sponsoring the PUMAs, but what about AIG sponsoring the best rugby team in the world, the All Blacks? Isn’t that an american company? Aren’t there any other american companies that would like to sponsor USA Rugby, or PRO?

    I may not have all the information and maybe I’m too far to notice what is really going on also, but there is one thing I know: if you put “let’s grow rugby in the US” at the top of the list of your priorities, all problems would be solved much faster than you guys think.

    Besides to any constraints, outstanding bills, pending salaries, etc, PRO has done a woderful job in terms of raising a brand, developing a product, selling it to the american audience and media exposure. The fact that I’m writing you guys from Chile….CHILE!!! should tell you something. Doug, with all the problems that he may or may not have, through an excepcional executioner that is Stephen Lewis, made it happen. Why your aren’t able to do it again, now that Steve has left the organization? Nobody has the necessary skills to achieve what SL did with the support of Doug?

    Lee Iaccoca used to say something that for me has been very valuable. “Two executives that are not arguing, should be fired immediately.” The same applies to two executives that are not arriving to a quick and efficient solution to a problem.

    I wish you everybody the best for 2017, have very nice New Year’s eve and hopefully we may see some advances in the following weeks. If I may be of some help in anyway, please let me know. My email is registered in this website. Best!

  3. Sergio, thanks for taking the time to read my stuff and comment. Agree on everything you said. Please note that in the interest of space, I did not go into detail regarding American sponsorship for rugby in America. I have a lot of info on that, but it is not for this topic. This topic purely is about a lack of care on the part of our Board, which is looking like will be very costly for many people. Thanks again for posting.

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  7. Long article – the point is Dan Payne is a former coach and has little to zero experience in rugby administration or in raising sponsorship revenues for anything.

    PRO Rugby has an agreement with USAR and they need to honor that.

    Better still they should use that to reinvent professional rugby in the USA instead of rugby being treated like a minnow sport.

    PRO Rugby is on the right track and USAR should help build that commercial property.

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  11. Reblogged this on Tony Ridnell and commented:

    There is a timely, and well written piece from Rugby Wrap Up concerning the negligence, and lack of ‘duty of care’ of the USA Board of Directors regarding the PRO Sanctioning agreement. It supports what many of us have known for a long time. It is an American Rugby tragedy, and it must be rectified.
    Jeremiah Johnson (The USAR Congress rep to the Board of Directors) is caught in the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place’. He must support the organization, yet must see the egregious negligence that is present.
    For simplicity sake, here is the request of the American Rugby community.
    Ask each Board member, “Did you read this agreement”. If the answer is no, your congress should demand their immediate resignation. If the answer is yes, and the Board member approved/signed off on this agreement, you should demand their immediate resignation.
    Are there any questions?

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