I have often wondered about ‘selling sponsorship’, specifically with regards to USA Rugby. “Why is it so hard”, I ask myself. Why is our Union’s budget so small? Why can’t we afford to fund programs and teams the way a United States entity should be able? It’s business, not rocket science.
Reintroducing RIM, and some history
The way USA Rugby is structured at the moment, there is a for-profit company ‘owned but not operated’ by USA Rugby responsible for sponsorship sales. This company is known as Rugby International Marketing, or RIM. Sponsorship sales should be the primary consistent revenue generator for the Union, unless considering “The Rugby Channel” (see bottom of article for more on The Rugby Channel) & Click this link for my assessment of The Rugby Channel. The USA Rugby Trust (a separate entity as well) is responsible for philanthropic revenue.
At some point in time approximately 3 years ago, the USAR Board somehow convinced the USAR Congress to entitle themselves (by the formation of ‘RIM’) to sell off equity in RIM (i.e. the future value of USA Rugby) to outside investors. I shouldn’t say ‘somehow’ because from what I have learned in the past two years about the functionality of the Congress as an entity – it is no wonder such a stunt could be pulled off.
Author’s note: I know NOTHING of the sports business. I have been a CEO in a completely different industry for a quarter century w/ a company the exact size of USA Rugby. I am mystified why our Union, more specifically RIM, representing the greatest country on earth (regardless of how you measure it) cannot find a corporation or entity (and combinations thereof) to ‘fund’ this great sport in our country. 100% absolutely mystified.
My Simple Thought on Selling Sponsorship
- Create a world class story to sell
- Get world class people to tell the story
Real Input from a Real Rugby Sponsor
I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with the Global Director at one of Rugby’s largest global sponsors last December. I asked him about USA Rugby and the sponsorship disconnect. Here is a summary of his thoughts:
- Structure (lack) is why he will not invest in USAR. He is all about structure
- He would only invest in USA youth initiatives, as he feels that is important. However, could never go ‘all in’ due to the problems at USA Rugby/RIM, etc..
- Feels Payne perfect guy for job, but feels he has no control financially.
- We spoke on PRO Rugby. “Cannot believe USAR would do anything on an ‘exclusive’ basis w/ PRO as the USA is at such an embryonic stage of growing the sport. He is astounded at the serious failure at the USAR Board level to vet this PRO entity
- “Winning is EVERYTHING to a sponsor”
- For a sponsor to consider giving, he asks, “what will the money I provide do. What will the outcomes be? “TR, I could give USA Rugby $10,000,000 tomorrow and they would not have any way to officially deploy it under any type of plan. We could never support that”
- Believes the RIM model is a huge problem. Commended my blog where the ‘conflict of interest’ re: RIM and potential partners was mentioned.
Rugby Business Executives Association – San Diego, June 30
I am excited to attend the first ever RBEA meeting in San Diego on Friday, June 30 where these issues will be dissected throughout the course of the weekend. They are not part of the formal agenda, but undoubtedly will be discussed. Specifically, I’ll be asking:
- What is the “USA Rugby Story” we tell to potential sponsors?
- Who are the people, and what are the standards, expectations, and performance metrics of their efforts?
I sincerely look forward with an open mind to hearing the answers. I want Will and Chad to blow me away with their vision, and plans for execution.
Throughout the past two years, I have studied this entire scenario. What I have found out first hand actually disturbs me; i.e., that the thing I devoted a major part of my life to, and am so honored to have worn the USA jersey, is at the state in which the level of mediocrity that is accepted throughout the organization. Here is one example (of so many)…
I have witnessed our ‘Director of Global Sponsorship’ (or whatever the exact title is) show up to the mecca of global Rugby’s sponsorship targets (i.e., the Hong Kong 7’s) and never be seen wearing anything bearing the USA Rugby logo throughout the course of the weekend. I saw her 3 separate times over two days, and never with any USA Rugby logo gear. On the clock, at the largest rugby networking event in the world!! Some might think being critical of this is nitpicky. I see it as being mandatory. (Note, we are in crisis mode financially at USA Rugby. It will get much worse before it get’s better), and it is damn time someone look at this entire entity from the perspective of the Chairmen, and the standards that are dictated from that level.
As an added note, this same salesperson missed close to 1/2 of the event because of a flight cancellation issue. When asked why she just didn’t take the non stop on another airline to get there for the start of the Hong Kong festivities, she boasted to a friend of mine, “I wanted to keep the airline miles”. No logo, but get the miles. This is a leadership issue. Culture starts at the top. CEO and Chair. In every organization.
Without wholesale change, the continuing cycle of mediocrity will never cease
It is my assessment that with the current organizational structure, and most specifically those in positions of leadership at the various entities involved, this continuing cycle of mediocrity will never cease. The manner in which Board members are nominated is questionable at best. Recommendations are literally made at the discretion of one person, whom I believe is in no way qualified to hold that position – arguably one of the most important in the entire Union! My thought is that we have yet to see Payne have an opportunity to be a ‘real’ CEO due to this organizational dysfunction; we may never find out how successful he could be.
The sustainability of RIM is questionable due to personnel/leadership reasons alone. I say this, an assessment based on two years of fairly intensive work, that there is no person other than those directly involved in RIM, who actually understand the concept and why it exists. I was informed by a Board member, “RIM was formed because at the non profit (i.e. USA Rugby) potential sponsors would not answer our calls”. It seems they are still not answering.
Remember Melville? What happens when Chang and Keck depart the Scene?
In a classic Melville move, he literally self appointed himself to move from the CEO of USA Rugby to CEO RIM. RIM had become the focal point for USA Rugby (see Org Chart), so RIM is where the ‘status’ would be. This is why Melville made the move to RIM. It’s a professional sport, and whether any of the old guard amateurs like it or not, the game is run by money – at every level. When Melville thankfully abandoned us close to a year ago, the ‘glue’ between USAR and RIM was severed, and we now have a case where Payne is forced to work with an organization structure that he literally has no control over. This is an enormous problem.
What happens when the likes of Chang, Keck, Sternberg depart the scene? Who fills their shoes? I have personally spoken with some of the overseas investors, and the domestic individual investors – none of whom I spoke to significantly understand the concept of RIM and either invested ‘to dip a toe into the USA market’, or ‘because I just wanted to support USA Rugby’. There is no sustainability here in my opinion.
Who’s in Charge?
Here is a photograph of The Rugby Channel’s booth as it sat all weekend at this year’s USA Rugby National Development Summit (NDS) in Baltimore in January, 2017. If these are the standards that are accepted within our organization, perhaps my detractors will be right, and I will go away.
Here’s the synopsis on the problems, and the solutions:
1. Leadership/Vision at the Board level.
That’s it… Both are sourced at the Board of Directors level and completely lacking. The interesting thing is, EVERYONE knows this… or, I should say – anyone fortunate enough to have knowledge on these matters MUST know this and agree. I don’t want to belabor or bash any individuals, but as a collective – USA Rugby is an embarrassment in the eyes of the rugby world. It is. This hurts to write, but it is true. RIM, TRC, PRO, the Overspend and the aftermath (i.e., have the CEO stick his hand out to the same wonderful people who have saved us before).
I have learned about the ‘money’ issues, where much of the philanthropy comes from, who gives it, and what they do and most importantly ‘do not’ want in return. I’ve learned why USAR is in the horrific state it is in financially – and don’t buy any of this crap about the ‘devaluation of the British Sterling’. The root of the problem is far greater than some currency rate fluctuation. We have festered for over a decade, American rugby people (again, those knowledgeable enough and with a ‘stake’ in the game) are tiring. The passion will never die, in fact – it will only increase. This passion deserves vision and leadership from USA Rugby. Dan Payne has all the qualities to be an outstanding CEO. He is completely hamstrung, his lack of exposure to the finances of the organization, specifically the revenue side should make any other C level executive cringe. Payne deserves better, and cannot succeed under the current organizational structure. The disappointing thing is, he knows it.
We must have every Board member committed to rugby. It should be in their DNA.
Wholesale changes at Board level required. RIM at the very least needs a serious audit. We must have every Board member committed to rugby. It should be in their DNA. Having played in college and a few club games is ridiculous when that is the highest level of rugby anyone has achieved on or off the field. It is inconceivable to me a board member would travel at the height of rugby/test season TO NEW ZEALAND and not make any rugby business meetings, or attend a match? How can we learn the global standards of our administrators are not networking globally? My experience in Hong Kong this year was tragic in this regard. The only formal representative of USA Rugby was RIM’s Sponsorship head. At the stadium (while ‘on the clock’ for RIM/USAR), she was not wearing any logo gear indicating she was with USA Rugby. Is that nitpicky? Yes. Would I make everyone who has a networking job to wear logo gear on the clock while at the #1 single largest rugby sponsorship business meetings in the world? Absolutely.
The entire world, literally from the CEO of ‘World Rugby’ down to the grassroots levels domestically, and everything in between recognizes the tragic scenario.
I’ve said it. I’ll debate it with anyone. We need wholesale changes at our leadership.
What can you do?
I ask the USA Rugby Congress once again to hold this Board to task. Now is the time. For a reader who cares enough to contact their USA Rugby Congress person, here is the list of the USA Rugby Congress Contacts. Let your congress representative know your opinions.
- Create a world class story to sell
- Get world class people to tell the story
I am looking forward to hearing Will, Chad, and David Sternberg lay out their vision, strategy and course of execution regarding USAR and RIM over the course of the weekend. I want to walk away pleasantly surprised and optimistic.
It is my assessment every continued botched move by our Union’s senior leadership and every day that passes without clearly defined vision and methods to get there (through the CEO of course) is a day that every single participant’s rugby experience is marginalized. It is another ‘lost day’ in the development of our sport in this country. So, for me – It is of the upmost importance. Hopefully, it is for you.
Thanks to all the people who have read my thoughts on my blog regarding my ‘findings’. I am not uniquely qualified to try and ‘solve’ any of the mess we all know exists. However, I do feel more than adequately qualified (in fact at some level, I feel uniquely qualified) to honestly assess with no vindication, the state of USA Rugby.
Other articles I have written on this topic:
- I want to hear “The State of USA Rugby” from Chairmen Chang/Keck. Why not the CEO you ask?…
- A thought on USA Rugby: Does mediocre Board performance ultimately effect on field performance?
- On USA Rugby Vision, Strategy 2020, RWC 2018/2027, Age Grade, HP audit, & more on the Board/RIM
- On USA Rugby, John Mitchell, RIM, The Rugby Channel, & the Board.