Congratulations to the USA Eagles. Not just for the 9th Test win in a row (31-5 vs. Romania in difficult Bucharest), but most importantly rocketing The Eagles to their highest World Rugby ranking ever.
As of Monday, the Eagles will be ranked 13th in the World.
For decades, rugby people have talked about Tier 1, intended to represent The Top 8 traditional rugby playing nations (aka “The IRB Countries”). The teams that occupy Tier 1 have not changed much over the years; only the order with which they are ranked. Much has been written on the reasons for this lack of mobility. It is true, ‘Tier 2’ nations are largely cut off financially from the spoils of the top level global game.
For example, today’s thriller between Japan and England at Twickenham yields exactly $0.00 for the Japanese Union. Apparently, some of the Brave Blossoms are on $20/day. Their opponents, England – receive GBP 25,000 (over $30,000) per game per player! Yet, even today – Japan put a scare into Mr. Jones and England, despite this vast disparity in the sharing of resources.
Features like this are part of what makes rugby such a compelling global game. USA Rugby has lived with this financial disparity forever. We have not done much to deserve better over the years, but that is no longer the case.
Here comes the “League of Nations”
However, times are changing. And, fast! What has long been the “Top 8” mentality will soon be changing with the recently announced “League of Nations”
The League of Nations, a concept now in full momentum at World Rugby – represents the Top 12 teams in the world playing in a global competition over the course of each calendar/playing year. The idea is to create interest in what will soon be formerly known as the June and November test windows.
It’s a brilliant idea, if you’re a Tier 1 (now 12 teams) Country.
The financial disparity in sponsorship and gate revenues between the Top 12 and the rest will kill any chance of those missing out in the original Top 12. There will be relegation/promotion, but for USA Rugby, based on our current trajectory it is “now or never”.
USA Rugby Must Do Whatever it Takes to Ensure Inclusion in Top Tier of World Rugby’s “League of Nations”
It’s no secret USA Rugby’s coffers are tragically low – however, much has been done just in the past 12 months begin the process of turning the Union around financially. Common knowledge is that without some windfall, the Union will be climbing back up the fiscal cliff for years to come.
There has been immediate attention and priority put on philanthropy recently, (See US Rugby Foundation, and newly formed Eagles XVs Club promoting specific donations to M/W XVs teams). However, philanthropy pales in comparison to the revenue dollars that will come available to the Union if we begin the League of Nations in the Top Tier.
What can USA Rugby Do?
In short, do whatever it takes to ensure our inclusion in Top Tier of League of Nations.
I’ve written extensively on the absolute need for an inclusive, well vetted, and effectively communicated Strategic Plan before sustainable long term progress can be made as a Union. I’ve now witnessed the effects personally.
In this case, the priorities as stated in a Strategic Plan will be vitally important (and urgently needed) to establish goals and communicate a vision to the membership.
Those in the leadership positions at USA Rugby (Young, O’Brien, Santinelli, Griffin, Whitton, et al.) are beginning the planning to create such priority and strategy.
Today, whatever that strategy is, it is my highest and strongest recommendation to USA Rugby’s Leadership that supporting our Men’s Eagles XVs becoming a Top 12 team in the World (safely in the Top 12) must become an absolute top priority. There are $$ Millions at Stake in Sponsorship, Media, Licensing, and Gate Revenues.
This strategy does not intend to take away from other ‘silo’s’ of the game. The fact is the money up for grabs for our Union if the Men’s XVs Eagles start in the Top Tier, the payback to Women, Youth, Age-Grade, Club, etc.. will be enormous.
- Consider the differential in gate splits if USA Rugby played England in London or New York, vs. if the Eagles playing vs. Chile in Fullerton, CA of Santiago, Chile. Over a few years, there will be MILLIONS of dollars of opportunity lost if we do not start in The top tier.
- Consider the sponsorship opportunities that come available playing New Zealand or England (regardless of venue) vs those when the Eagles play the likes of Argentina A, Chile, and Brazil.
- Consider the media revenues:
- “The premise is we need to generate more money for the international game and the more meaningful those games are, the more likely they are to generate broadcast revenue so we’re doing an exercise in the viability of a broadcast uplift in those fixtures,” World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper told The Daily Telegraph.
Participation in The League of Nations Tier One will allow USA Rugby to make a transformational shift in its Brand awareness domestically and globally, and ultimately provide our Union the funds it commands (and deserves) to perform its priorities.
Such priorities should include, but not be limited to:
- A ‘supercharged’ Scholastic effort (HS Varsity, and Women’s Collegiate Title IX effort)
- Immediate move to put together a RWC 2027 Bid Committee. Start now!
- Significantly renegotiating ‘The FLO Deal” to regain commercial rights to the Eagles and USA Rugby Brands.
In the immediate planning process, USA Rugby Leadership should make Gary Gold’s team THE priority in the coming year. Fiscal sustainability, affecting every USAR Member is in the balance.
Rugby Canada took a huge financial risk in 2018 ensuring it qualified in the RWC 2019 – the dollars at stake in World Rugby grants for failing to make the tournament is significant. Similarly, short-term support in whatever capacity the Eagles need, and corresponding success on the field, will result in the revenue boosts the Union desperately needs to fulfill its mission of providing World Class service to its membership.
This is a strategy the Union should employ. We must get ahead of this curve, secure a place in the Top 12, and reap significant financial benefit long term for every member of USA Rugby, Male/Female – Youth/Old Boy. This is not a ‘gender play’, nor a ‘high performance’ grab for money/resources. This is a financial play in the strongest interests of the Union.
Tony Ridnell (Eagle 168)
Other Articles I’ve Published: