On USA Rugby Vision, Strategy 2020, RWC 2018/2027, Age Grade, HP audit, & more on the Board/RIM 7

I just returned from a very enjoyable weekend in the NYC area attending the Eagles v. Ireland match. It was great to reconnect with many ‘friends’ (some of whom I had never met in person, but due to social media I call them friends) and connect with new ones. I really appreciated the invite to participate in Matt McCarthy’s Rugby Wrap Up podcast with Dan Lyle, Steve Lewis, and Lou Stanfill.  What an honor.

Red Bull Stadium (if you can get over the horrific travel experience of getting anywhere in the New York area) is fantastic.  What a venue for an international rugby match!  One day every person attending will be privileged to belt out the National Anthem (ala G.S.T.Q. at Twickenham) echoing inside Red Bull or some other dedicated soccer/rugby size stadium – perfectly laid out.

One thing I do realize, is win or lose on the field, it’s a great feeling to be part of the dialogue about the growth of rugby in the USA.  The passion for American Rugby for every level is incomparable. And, lets face it… The USA will be the giants we want to be.  It’s just a question of how many years (decades??) we want to tolerate getting to that level.

Since my last post, a number of people have asked, “What is your Vision for USA Rugby?”.  Below is ‘a vision’, one that I thoroughly support, but is not uniquely ‘my vision’.

Rugby World Cup 2027

The United States must host RWC2027.  This tournament can mean a multiple hundred million dollar windfall for the host country, and in ten years it should be significantly greater.  I also see this 2027 tournament being the place the USA could place our stamp on the global game, and perhaps upset someone in a quarterfinal.  Of course we have to get there first, and there is so much work to do on and off the field.  It’s a 10 year runway, and we must start now. Many of the athletes that will play in this tournament for the USA are only now being exposed to the game. It is imperative that we get it together immediately with regard to our youth and HP pathways to build to this 10 year crescendo.  This will be a monumental task,  and if we don’t get it in 2027, the USA will have to wait to 2035 given the current World Rugby protocol for awarding the event. Note, June 1 was the deadline for bids for hosting RWC2023.  Ireland submitted a 990 page bid!  RSA and France are the other contenders. Gus Pichot (Vice Chair World Rugby, and Argentinean) has already begun to capture significant media attention surrounding RWC2027 and Argentina’s desire to host. This means the RWC2027 hosting bids are due in just over 1400 days.  That time will fly.

Another vision is to build, and create a unique situation in the USA where we can raise both the Men’s status AND Women’s status equally. I have found myself glued to some of the Women’s 7’s tournaments, and I believe we could do something astronomical for the exposure of the women’s game here.

Success in hosting RWC 2018 is paramount – how’s it looking?

In order to host RWC 2027, success at the RWC 2018 weekend next summer in San Francisco is critical.  Our Board knows this, and has had time to prepare accordingly. The GM of the tournament stated she feels she was hired six, and possibly 12 months too late.  She commented that contrary to all the initial announcements regarding financial windfall, we are now managing this tournament to try and break even.  Rumors abound about the best estimate being a ‘several million dollar loss’.  The task of hosting 40 teams (24 Men’s/16 Women’s) and what that entails in the City of San Francisco where August hotel rates average over $450/night will turn out to be a significant challenge logistically and financially.

The USA Sevens Tournament (held in Las Vegas as part of the HSBC World Series) has over a 13 year history, the last 7 years in Vegas.  It also hosts a massive club 7’s/XV’s tournament coinciding with the USA Sevens in order to attract clubs/visitors to the event.  The max one day attendance in Vegas is just over 20,000 spectators for one day.  Unless some spectacular marketing is done to attract fans, I don’t see the San Francisco event attracting anything close to Vegas numbers. This leads into the question…

Why San Francisco??

Originally the tournament was going to be separated into two venues; Avaya Stadium in San Jose and ATT Park in downtown San Francisco.  Now it will be held only at ATT.  Ask around for the RFP (Request for Proposal) and as might be expected from our leadership at the time; there was not one issued!  Apparently, Chairman Chang took it upon himself (assuming with support from his other Board members) to award the location for this event to SFO. An interesting fact is that Chairman Chang has an equity interest in the San Francisco Giants, the owners of ATT Park. Sources have told me that the Giants take for the lease of the stadium is ‘guaranteed’ and that an overwhelming portion of the financial risk is assumed by USAR’s financial arm, Rugby International Marketing, aka RIM.

Behind the scenes at the recent Rugby Wrap Up podcast from NYC, I spoke to AEG’s new Director of Rugby – Dan Lyle about RWC2018.  He was the GM and ran USA Sevens (Vegas, and San Diego) for 12 of it’s 13 years and had the following to say, “Each tournament was different, and for the RWC 7’s it is unique and very difficult to simply look at the costs vs. the return of such an event. RWC2018 needs a unified vision, such as ‘the kickoff to the USA hosting 2027’…show the world we can host. A group should be working now to get every club in America to tour California next August.  Create camp sites, big tournament sites, festival events… anything to bring a crowd and put butts in seats”.

For me, the RWC 7’s tournament is just another 3 day rugby festival that could be any other tournament on the circuit, but happens to be called ‘The World Cup’. This is certainly different from the XV’s format where the Rugby World Cup has evolved into the third largest sporting event in the world behind the FIFA World Cup and The Olympics.  Other than the title, there is little unique to this tournament compared to what we would see in Vegas.  It will be a difficult task to fill this stadium.

Personally, I will do whatever asked in order to support success for RWC2018. I’ll make phone calls to clubs encouraging them to participate… whatever it takes.  I hope RIM is up to the task.   Success in SFO next year could be the foundation for a quarter of a billion dollar payday only 9 years later at RWC2027. We should consider it a $250,000,000 loss if we don’t get it.


Dan Lyle, Lou Stanfill, Steve Lewis and Tony Ridnell join Matt McCarthy discussing a range of topics, mostly about the USA Rugby landscape, the State of Rugby in America, John Mitchell, Todd Clever, International Tests and the Failed & Future Professional Rugby Set-Ups in the USA

The knock on effect of financial failure

Assuming the forecasts are reasonable, USA Rugby (thru it’s financial arm, RIM) will be further under water in 2018 than we have been this year, where several of the USAR High Performance (HP) programs funding have had to be cut; thankfully resurrected by the unconditional generosity and philanthropy provided by several individuals. One of the most noticeable cuts was for the Men’s Jr All American’s (i.e. U/20’s), who’s attendance at the U/20 Trophy qualifier this week in Edmonton, AB had to be funded by personal philanthropy.  I hope Chairman Chang and CEO Payne consider the effect if/when this philanthropic funding stream dries up with the lack of performance ‘off the field’ by USA Rugby and its Board. It can only be so long until such donors start asking real questions themselves.

The Relationship between Board Performance and Organizational Success

Before any grandiose vision (of anyone’s, not necessarily mine) can be implemented, we must be able to execute certain tasks at the Board level.  We are failing considerably in this measure.  Poll the USAR Congress and they will tell you that Board Minutes have not been made available within months of any deadline of expectation.  Ask the Congress about the Board’s performance on action cycles created at the Austin Congress meeting in February.  Spoiler alert:   It’s not good. Several sets of Board minutes recently released appear to have been created post-facto. Some sets of these minutes are 2 pages in length. The quality is average. This might not sound important, but to me, if the rest of the Union is waiting on the Board to issue its directives/summaries, etc., then the entire Action Cycle chain is further delayed and little gets accomplished. There has been a multi-year cycle of this waste, and it needs to be fixed. Immediately. This is indicative of poor leadership and suspect accountability. This is business ‘blocking and tackling’ and the job is not getting done. The attendance rate and commitment level of certain Board members is not acceptable to any standard.  A recent conversation with a Board member yielded he was not aware that the MJAA (i.e. U/20’s) funding was cut, and this week’s Edmonton trip and annual coaching staff salary for this age grade has been paid for by individual benefactors.

There will be no achievement of anyone’s ‘vision’ until this stumbling block (i.e. our Board performance) is assessed, and completely corrected.  This is where the Congress must come in and hold this Board to account.

The leadership of the current Board was present when the PRO Rugby sanction document was signed and approved.  This document is nothing short of atrocious, and the primary reason that the Union is in the mess it is regarding professional rugby in this country.  The leadership of this Board must be held accountable for this mess.  The likes of RIM, and The Rugby Channel were created in the absence of any Strategic Plan.  The death bell of The Rugby Channel has been rung (see recent World Rugby/NBC announcement), and RIM’s contribution and potential with the current cast of players is suspect.  In addition, Flo Rugby is turning up the heat on securing quality content – obtaining the broadcast rights to several European based Tier 1 tests (i.e. SCOvITA).  I have personally spoken with individual investors in RIM as well as two Board members from other investing entities and not one of them could explain the business model behind RIM, and several of them asked:  “aren’t they creating their own competition”?

Six Nations Content for The Rugby Channel?

Conversations were held in the suites at Red Bull Stadium where RIM and TRC executives spoke of their optimism in obtaining the USA broadcast rights for the 2018 Six Nations.  The lack of self awareness by this ‘business’ is astounding.  I have no doubt this content will be swallowed up by the likes of NBC or ESPN. I have to think that having RIM/The Rugby Channel even bid on the rights would ‘piss off’ the likes of an NBC/ESPN to question why they would ‘partner’ with a competitor (i.e. USA’s alter ego known as RIM).

Here are the first two ‘powers and responsibilities’ of the USAR Board per the By Laws:

(a) To formulate (in consultation with management) and monitor the implementation of the strategic plan of the Corporation;

(b) To approve and monitor the implementation of the annual business plan, operational plan, and budget

It should be noted that this Board has operated in the absence of a Strategic Plan and Business Plan for over a decade. The USAR Chair and RIM Chair have been on the Board for four (4) years and three (3) years respectively. There is no excuse for this performance.

Focusing on RWC2027 must be top priority as the new Strategy 2020 is implemented by Payne and USA Rugby.

The Union put out a Strategic Plan, known now as “Strategy 2020” earlier this year, yet it had no mention of RWC2027, and was sorely missing much meat outside of how to grow the ‘participation pyramid’.  I do like the “Six major markets by 2020” vision, and look forward to the Rugby Business Executives Association (“RBEA”) Conference on June 30 in San Diego where this will be the theme. Working on the vision of RWC2027, Payne’s Major Market vision gets put on a fast track.

In responding to a question about ‘vision’, it is difficult not to discuss the Board and the massive effect (positive or negative) it can have, and does have on any such ‘vision’. It is time to get back to basics and instill some Business Basics back into this Board.  Without it, and the proper alignment to the organization – it doesn’t matter what anyone’s vision is, it is bound for failure.

Once the fundamental business basics are secured, my vision is for the USA to host and aggressively compete in RWC2027. To do so, the Men and Women programs throughout the age spectrum must be treated equitably. My vision is for kids playing rugby to have heroes they can recognize, identify with, and seek to emulate.  Men and Women. Boys and Girls.

To enable the above, there must be solid financial stewardship of USAR. The Board, and well-connected members of the USA Rugby Community must work together to drive large-scale opportunities to help finance the growth of rugby in the US.  I believe in the RBEA.  It’s time to start thinking big, coinciding with sound, vetted sports business ideas/realities.

One final note.  Independent High Performance Audit/Vision Conference Necessary Immediately!!

I witnessed a shellacking on Rugby Canada’s FB page last evening.  Our U-20’s were soundly beaten by the Canadians.  The difference on the board was 34 points, but it could have easily been 54.  They play again on Saturday.  It brought up the discussion of High Performance and how desperately we need to get alignment with both sexes, age grade, and all the way up the ladder to the HP level. What are our goals?  And let’s plan and execute accordingly.  Do we really have a vision for our elite teams.  A long term plan?  I did not see it in Strategy 2020. Payne mentions HP audit as an ‘immediate’ priority.

I wonder if that is the best U-20 team we can field? Is it ‘pay to play’ as some people refer to it?  I don’t know the answer, I do know I don’t like losing to the Canadians, and we are on the verge of not making it to the U-20 ‘Trophy’ Competition, which is actually the Tier 2 of Age grade rugby.  So, at this level – we are Tier 3.  We have no excuse. We need an HP audit/vision conference immediately.  Maybe the RBEA can accommodate this task/action cycle.  Any conversation/conference should include those philanthropic funders of these HP programs as well.  They are getting very little ‘return on their investment’ and deserve better.  I am not saying ‘win immediately’, but to create a long term strategy for success in our elite programs.  The answer is more than ‘get more kids to play’.


Notes from my chance meeting with Eddie Jones. January 1, 2017.  Note his first comment regarding ‘What to do with American Rugby’.

I am ‘too divisive’ and ‘think too operationally’ to be considered for a Board seat, so I sure hope someone in that elite establishment is at least thinking about it, and focusing on more than hosting cocktail parties.

Other Articles I have written on this topic:



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