The final outcome of a strategic planning process that is multi-sourced, independently reviewed, and well vetted, will lead USAR to becoming a world class organization, on and off the field.
Major issues at USA Rugby can be broken down in 3 broad areas:
- Structure and need for Strategic Plan (including Pathways)
Considering the expanding growth of the game; particularly at youth levels, the professionalism required to compete at the top level (on and off the field) , and the multiple program offerings by USAR – the ability to finance the spectrum of these programs is critical. We should not cut back on USAR programs, we should expand them if necessary, as long as we can finance them. When appropriate, we should outsource many of these programs if USAR is not ‘best in class’.
The ability to obtain funding/sponsorship from corporate entities relies on the ability of the organization to show value to those potential sponsors. Value is created with structure. Structure comes in a Strategic Plan. We are able to then tell a ‘story’ of value. Finally, the ability to communicate our story is of paramount importance.
USA Rugby: Participation and Performance
USAR must span the “Participation to Performance” spectrum on our pyramid of growth. The membership are USA Rugby’s “customers”. We have 130,000 active players, approximately 1.3 MM occasional players, and a potential viewership of rugby of between 30MM and 40MM according to Nielson. We must also serve them accordingly to tie them into the sport.
We must obtain data. We need data to provide answers and information.
- Membership/Participation – how many do we have, why do we not retain as well as we would like. What do we look like compared to other sports we compete against in the USA (i.e. Lacrosse, Soccer), what do we aspire to be, who do we want to ‘partner’ with. This is the comprehensive club audit I have discussed previously.
- Performance – Where do we sit in World rankings across all spectrums: Men’s/Women’s, 7’s/15’s, all age grades must be compared to those countries sitting +/- 5 places in the World rugby rankings. This would be found in the comprehensive HP audit that must be conducted. Study their playing numbers, competitions, professionalism, etc…
A strategic imperative and topic that needs to be addressed is at a higher level. As a US Rugby community we need to be clear and aligned on the topic of, “Do we want Rugby in the US to be a “mainstream vs. fringe” sport that includes a professional element. And does our membership fully understand and embrace what that means.”
My answer is an emphatic YES, but I am not sure that is a commonly held, understood and aligned feeling throughout the USA Rugby community.
Addressing this topic then, I believe leads you down the path to addressing the Collegiate Rugby/NCAA question along with mainstream acceptance at the High School level and Rugby’s mainstreaming efforts with State HS Athletic Association’s that govern all other traditional sports such as Soccer or Lacrosse. This basic and fundamental participation question must be resolved in the next strategic plan.
The ‘pyramid’ of participation in all sports has a base of participants. It builds upwards towards performance at the very top (the elite levels). Rugby is a sport with a lifestyle enabling any player of any level to participate for a lifetime. USA Rugby must support the “Participation to Performance” pyramid at all levels, certainly not just the elite/HP programs.
The USA has significant geographical challenges. We can turn these challenges into championships. We need to facilitate 10-12 regional hubs (each with their own full staff running youth/HS/college and Club rugby) with an elite/Pro level team at the top of this pyramids. These hubs, are our major markets. We should have 3-4 of these teams on each coast and the same in the middle of our geography. Each hub makes up a market or ‘hub’ with the current State Based Organizations (SBO’s) handling execution in each major market. SBO’s ultimately will run/manage all rugby. Minor markets will appear in support of the major hubs.
The results of the audit on clubs/colleges/programs in the USA will clearly indicate the major rugby markets in the USA.
The major market selection should be based on the following criteria:
- Current and potential playing numbers
- Facilities and structures to host major and minor events
- Available Sports Commission and Authority
- Financial and philanthropic capacity and potential
- Rugby legacy and incumbent community support
- SBO Catchments
- Ability to participate in RWC2027 Bid.
- Personnel aligned to this major market vision with the ability to adjust and grow the model over a sustainable period of time.
- Home grown capital and/or ability to accept investors and capital from vetted groups.
- There will also be overseas money available (see below)
I believe the hubs/major markets/minor markets concept (all operating independently to their own culture/plan) helps solve the geographical challenges faced in American rugby. We must get the people in place that can execute our Strategic Plan at the Board level, and ensure our plan can be communicated to the lowest level of American rugby, and also to the highest level of corporate boardrooms.
There is a treasure of overseas money that entities from every continent want to deploy on behalf of rugby in America. This money currently sits on the sidelines due to USAR’s issue w/ PRO. That issue MUST get resolved and either PRO conduct business, or close completely. We must clear up the legalities and allow this overseas money to come.
There are two schools of thought for this overseas money. I believe both are possible and will happen. USA Rugby should support both these avenues.
- Franchises of PRO12, Super Rugby, etc… coming to USA:
- PRO12 has issued a deck on wishing to expand to USA. Currently there are several bids in process. See the recent Toronto Rugby League franchise opening for such a model.
- Holdup from USAR might be how many ‘Americans’ would play in such a franchise. This should not be our concern. This is a franchise that can only add value to the structure we will build for our top hubs/markets
- USA Rugby should support any franchises from overseas wishing to come to USA (and ensure the franchise missions are in alignment with USAR’s).
- These franchises will play in larger stadiums. We should support that, and utilize such stadiums to provide permanent homes for or elite teams.
- Premiership/Top 14, etc.… Clubs want to mark turf in the USA
- This is currently happening, and the relationships will grow. Saracens/Seattle, Harlequins/San Francisco, Racing 92/Austin Huns, Leicester/NOVA,DC to name a few.
- These clubs want to come and ‘invest’ in a premier/professional type environment.
- They will create a professional ‘elite’ team (that could be overlaid on top of current clubs). They will use some of their own players for development in the USA. This is ok… our players get higher level competition.
- They will create Academies in each major market. Note, current USA based Academy businesses should vie to compete for operational control of such academies.
- USAR (thru club audit) should assist these clubs ‘partnering’ with the major USA rugby hubs/markets.
- There will be a ‘professional competition’ amongst the major markets. For the purpose of this plan. Assume 12 hubs. 12 hubs = 12 separate teams in 12 geographies.
- The facilities these elite teams play in can be used to bolster a bid for the USA to host RWC2027. The Chicago weekends prove we can host World class rugby events, we need other venues to appear for rugby. Plans for this bid must be created immediately! The payday is too large to ignore.
- Each hub must consider the women’s game, and I would encourage as much joint participation events as possible.
- The Strategic Plan must identify the markets we call ‘hubs’. Money from overseas will be invested in our ‘hubs’ as those participants wish. Assuming 12 hubs, these will be the geographic centers from which USA Rugby will rely and will be the cities which will be represented in a national professional competition. There will be minor hubs that serve to support the major hubs. This is where much of the semi-professionalism (from grassroots financing) might participate.
Each hub should operate as an independent entity. Each hub should have a CEO (first job would be ‘rugby development officer’, and its’ own organization structure. Current clubs in each hub would ‘feed’ into that hub elite team, including the semiprofessional teams that exist today. Many of the functions now to be handled at the hub level, could make a number of USAR staff redundant.
This article is 2nd in a series of my thoughts re: Strategic Plan, Structure/Organization, Pathways, Finance/Funding, and some other ideas.
Here is the 1st article: Strategic Plan: What should USA Rugby Consider?. Published on Jan 31, 2017.
Other articles I have written on these topics are:
- Tony Ridnell interview w/ “The Rugby Committee” discussing USA Rugby
- My Aviva Premiership Rugby Weekend & a question to Eddie Jones
- USA Rugby’s Strategic Plan: It’s not about the Eagles, and it’s all about the Eagles!
- USA Rugby: Professionalism & The Strategic Plan (The most important thing you never cared about)
I have been nominated for one of the USA Rugby at-large Board of Directors seats coming available in the next cycle. I appreciate the support I have received and thank the people who contacted me regarding my interest, and would sincerely appreciate an opportunity to make a difference in American Rugby.