More Professional Rugby in USA? Q&A With Diana Anderson of Major League Rugby

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Major League Rugby

NEW YORK, NY  – With all the chatter be bandied about re professional rugby in the United States, the line between fact and fiction can become blurred. What do we know? We know that PRO Rugby and USA Rugby are currently not on the same page as per year two of that 5-team, history-making set-up. On paper, CEO of PRO, Doug Schoninger, looks to have sanctioning through April of 2018. We also know that come April of 2018 another entity, the MLRMajor League Rugby – is betting on being a sanctioned pro 15s league in the United States. To shed some light on this we reached out to Diana Anderson, the Director of Marketing for Infinity Park and the Marketing/Media Chair for Rugby United Marketing and better spokesperson for the proposed Major League Rugby group. Thanks to Luke Bienstock, here is the transcribed Q&A With Diana Anderson of Major League Rugby with our Matt McCarthy:

McCarthy: Diana, we’ve already said our hellos, so how about getting right to it?
Anderson: Sure.
McCarthy: Great.

Rugby United Marketing & Major League Rugby…

McCarthy: Great. Let’s start with your role as marketing and media chair for Rugby United Marketing. What is Rugby United Marketing?
Anderson: Okay. So basically, Rugby United Marketing is just an LLC that the league opened up on the marketing side for the league.
McCarthy: The league being Major League Rugby?
Anderson: Correct.
McCarthy: And the MRC is just…
Anderson: The MRC is Major Rugby Championship. It’s the friendly competition that we’re having right now, it doesn’t have anything to do with the MLR.
McCarthy: Right, and that will continue?
Anderson: No. Not that I know of. Then again, it all depend on if Glendale decides that hey it wants more competition in the fall outside of the league schedule, then we might continue to use MRC as the championship for the fall because we need content in Glendale. So that’s why it was really kind of formed. Glendale needs content, we’re an up and running stadium and we can’t be a dark stadium when we have sponsors that need fulfillment.
McCarthy: Right.
Anderson: Because of the PRP going away, that’s why the spring it’s MRC which is just a friendly league competition. New teams coming together for some match time on the pitch.
McCarthy: Okay. There is this confusion about whether its professional, not professional. Some folks saying it’s professional, some folks saying it’s not professional.
Anderson: No, it’s not. No, it’s friendly.

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Sanctioning…

McCarthy: That would butt heads with the whole USA Rugby/PRO Rugby situation with sanction.
Anderson: Right. That’s exactly right. So that’s why we delivered the letter to the board at Congress to let them know that we were putting this together. We’re really just being open an honest and direct but at the same time this is not pro going on right now at all.
McCarthy: So next year, in 2018, it will be pro?
Anderson: Tentatively we are targeting 2018 and it will be pro, it will be professional.
McCarthy: Will that take place with sanctioning or without sanctioning from USA Rugby?
Anderson: Yes.
McCarthy: So either way, it’s going forward?
Anderson: Yes.
McCarthy: Okay.
Anderson: We weren’t sanctioned, the PRP wasn’t sanctioned, no it wasn’t pro, but it wasn’t sanctioned by USA Rugby. So again, just so that’s clear, it wasn’t sanctioned. We do hope that it is sanctioned, but we are cognizant of the fact that they have to work out with PRO League and I believe that they have 18 months to go or something like that.
McCarthy: Yeah the copy of the sanction agreement that I have, it’s the 22nd of April in 2018. That’s if this thing isn’t extended or if they can’t reach some kind of agreement.
Anderson: Exactly. We are hoping that they are able to sanction us. That is our hope and our wish and our focus. That is why we let them know this was going on. We do not want to infringe on anything.
McCarthy: Right, and that is why the MRC is the friendly competition?
Anderson: Correct
McCarthy: So I guess you are kind of rooting for the PRO Rugby and USA Rugby thing to just dissipate?
Anderson: Yes. We hope that it does. We just want to grow rugby in the United States to the professional level. We’ve been positioning it in Glendale on behalf of Glendale for the past ten or eleven years now to do it the right way and to bring on teams that ultimately have the right facilities and move from the amateur club to a professional league, but done in the right manner. Sanctioning yes, with sponsors, but there are minimum standards that each of these professional teams are held up to so that corporate America endorses it, sponsors come on board, and they are getting the ROI [Return On Investment] the way they want and that this is done in the professional manner that rugby deserves to be done in the United States. It’s time.

The Teams…

McCarthy: I’m looking at the list of clubs that are potentially involved and it would be the Austin HunsChicago Lions, Dallas Griffins, Glendale RaptorsHouston Strikers, Kansas City Blues, New Orleans RFC, Seattle Saracens and Rugby Utah Is that an accurate list so far?
Anderson: Yes it is. There should be nine on that list, that’s correct.
McCarthy: Would we be just determining that they are no longer club teams, they are professional teams?
Anderson: Well, they’ll be professional teams once we officially launch and we kick off. When set kick off date and stuff and launch. It can continue to be D2, D3, D1, whatever they want out side of the MLR season, but yes, they will be professional once it’s launched.
McCarthy: Would they be using players that are within their club structure now? Each individual club?
Anderson: That’s up to the club based on making sure they keep the high level of competition, that is totally up to them. For Glendale right now, a lot of our men came back from the Denver Stampede because PRO didn’t renegotiate their contracts. So a lot of the players that went to PRO are gravitating back to some of these teams that are in the MRC and are moving forwards. So it’s up to each club, the coaches and the owners, to put together the talent that they need to be highly competitive.
McCarthy: Okay. So I guess my question is, we’re just taking players that are on a club level right now and then are just saying they’re professional players, but are they professional caliber players?
Anderson: I can’t speak for all of them because I don’t know who these players are because these players haven’t been brought on. At the point we are at right now, we are working on enhanced… that’s why it is a tentative launch in 2018. It is because we want to bring professional level players in and/ or take the club level at the elite level that MRC positioning itself in right now this year and to train (at the high altitude training center) and teach and bring in that level or the level that we have right now and take it to the next level. That’s the best answer I can give you right now.

This is another MLR… No affiliation. Click for the site.

Nuts & Bolts Costs…

McCarthy: Okay. I guess some of the nuts and bolts questions are around costs, this is a lot of travel that would be going on between these teams and that’s just one cost. How would each of these individual teams offset the costs?
Anderson: There are owners that are on board and are prepared to lose some money that they are probably going to lose at the beginning, the first couple of years and they all know that, and again, that is part of it. That is why doing it the right way and getting minimum standards in place for each of these venues is key for a sponsor and getting the sponsors to get on board, that is the key. That is why we are taking the time and doing the due diligence that it needs to ensure that corporate America, if you will, gets behind this so that the cost is minimal and the franchise cost goes up. It’s not thinking like it is right now, the thinking of the club costs and the travel and everything that has been going on up until now is not the methodology or matrix we are using going forward. Things will be supported individuals that have money that know what they’re signing on to and have expectations to meet or cap calls will need to be made.
McCarthy: Will these owners incur these costs if the planets align for PRO Rugby and USA Rugby.
Anderson: I can’t answer that question, I am not sure.
McCarthy: I guess a different question is, are they prepared to go ahead without sanctioning?
Anderson: Like I told you, we hope to be sanctioned. That is our goal right and we are doing everything we can right now so that we will. Depending on PRO and whatever happens, that’s unknown. That’s unknown right now and we don’t have a glass ball and our hope right now is that we are the professional league that is sanctioned in 2018 as a tentative target date. That’s all I know. Spin it anyway you want, but that’s the best I can give you.
McCarthy: No I’m not trying to spin it, I’m just saying is it contingent on sanctioning?
Anderson: Again, at this point, I can’t answer if it’s contingent on sanctioning, if it will stop it or start it. All that I know is that we are positioning ourselves to be the professional league that gets sanctioned. I don’t know what will happen with PRO, nobody does. So that’s all we can say right now.

East Coast…

McCarthy: Okay… I don’t see a team on the East Coast as of yet.
Anderson: No. As of yet, it is not. What we have done is pull together teams that fit the minimum standards that we set forth. We are going to be working on an expansion plan, we feel very strongly that that is needed and as we move forward we have the Class A members in place… With the nine teams that we’ve been talking to there’s a lot of great talent on the West Coast and a lot on the East Coast. We have an expansion committee in place and we will continue to cultivate that, but right now our goal is to take the nine teams that we have and do the due diligence we need. We’re scheduling a late summer announcement, if you will, just a formal press conference/media announcement as to letting everyone know that professional rugby is here, is coming, and the MLR is alive. But, we will not do that until one, we have everything ready to do that. We are working diligently to make sure all of the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed so that when we do a launch there are no questions, everything is done professionally in the manner that we want to move forward with it and we can announce scheduling and official kickoff and title sponsorship, and that is really the hope. To answer the question, I can answer to the best of my ability, but please note that there is a lot of work that needs to be done that we are really working diligently on. And at the end of the day, to the fans and to the media and to corporate America, we don’t want to be compared to, well Super League didn’t do this and PRO didn’t do that. We know, and the contents and the chatter that’s out there is doing nothing but helping us gather information and facts on what not to do. We are excited about our new brand and our story and our mission and our vision, and we will do everything to make sure that this is sustainable and we bring the right teams on board that make it sustainable and grow so that the franchise costs goes up and now is the time to do that.

Venues…

McCarthy: So venues. That has to be a big issue for you. I’m still putting on the boots every now and then and I’ve played at a lot of these different places and some of them are just parks.
Anderson: They are. A lot of the cities are working on, Houston for example, the city is behind it to build a stadium. So there are some cities building stadiums and others are going to be negotiating leases so that all stadiums meet the minimum standards. They must have parking, and x amount of seats and digital screens and broadcast or webcast, PA announcements, fan activation, fan experience, sponsor activation. We have got a whole minimum standard that each city needs to meet and we are in the process of doing site tours to ensure that those minimum standards are met and they have to be met. The owners, the league, the teams all know it and everybody is working together and with everyone helping one another here ultimately ? on the pitch and the league will succeed. An amazing group of clubs, teams, owners, players, coaches, management we support investing into this to make sure it is done right. So the venues will be addressed. They will not be in a park with a megaphone and a 1920s style scoreboard, it’s not going to happen.
McCarthy: In the United States we have a problem with venues. They’re either 77,000 seats or 80,000 seats or not. For Chicago for instance, where would the Lions set up?
Anderson: I haven’t been to that site inspection, I will be going on the site inspection, and he has given us the location of where their property will be building. I don’t know where theirs is just like I don’t know where New Orleans is right now. I haven’t seen Rugby Utah’s. They let us know that it is in place. I haven’t seen them. We’re starting our site visits in March. Everybody know right now what they need so they are shopping, is best I can say, while they are working on building. Austin is building their stadium, Houston is building it, but we will announce at the press conference more details as to where these venues are, when people will be ground breaking, and in the interim where these rugby matches will be played. Minimum is, ours is 4,000. So out of the gate we will set the mark as to how many seats, but you’re right it won’t be a 77,000 seat venue.
McCarthy: Yeah that doesn’t do you any good really.
Anderson: Yeah it won’t be. It can’t be. It won’t look successful. For the camera arc and broadcast it has to be successful so we are looking at all the stadiums, all of the cities are.

MLR Press Conference vs PRO/USA Rugby 180 Days…

McCarthy: So the late summer press conference, does that have anything to do with the 180 day alleged clause in the sanctioning agreement with PRO and USA Rugby?
Anderson: I don’t know. I am not sure. Maybe there is somebody else that might know that, but I don’t know. Late summer is just based on the fact that we want to honor, here in Glendale, our agreement with USA Rugby and we are the host property, if you will, for the Collegiate 7s and for the Club Championship and all of that. We have got a MRC championship in June, we have our Rugby Town 7s where twenty international and military teams are coming in, even the Fijian teams are coming in now. We are tentatively setting that date just to make sure that we have honored everything, that we don’t go against USA Rugby, that we are partnering with them, and again it gives us time to get everything in line for the MLR. It is a great timeline for the community and it’s on par with what USA Rugby’s schedule is. So that’s why I’m saying late summer tentatively because we don’t have dates locked in. We wanted to keep this as quiet as possible, that’s why I’m just answering the questions that I am able to answer because there is still a lot of work left to be done. I’m not trying to hide anything, it’s just a lot of work left to be done. We want media on our side, we want rugby enthusiasts, bloggers like yourself on our side.
McCarthy: I have no reason not to be. I’ve just been to the alter a couple of times and I know fans have as well so I’m just asking some basic questions that fans want to hear the answers to. I hope it is not coming across negatively.
Anderson: It’s kind of a naysayer approach I feel. We’re expecting that, we knew that would happen. It’s ok because you’re right like you said, there’s just been a lot of accounts, and again that’s why we want to do it differently. We want to do it the right way and through a community pathway, the youth, the clubs have to have a certain criteria before we even bring them on board and youth is a big thing for us. So we want to do this the right way and all of the things that the fans have been saying and complaining about, we’ve listened, but it does take time to bring nine teams together that have never played on the pitch together and do it the right way, tag it professional and really come out of the gate as something that the community, the fans, people such as yourself go, this is the one, this is the real deal. The more momentum we get, the more media, the press, the more that we do it the right way, we are privately owned so we don’t have to be too transparent, but we do have to be diligent about delivering information based on our timeframe and we just want respect for that so that we can do it the right way. That’s my passion, that’s me speaking from what I’ve seen, and I’ve been here eleven years, so I hear you, I hear what you are saying and I’ve heard what the fans are saying, I’ve watched it, I’ve listened to the chatter, and we get it. We’re asking that you give us a little bit of time so that it can all be done right and we will do it right. That is everyone’s mission and vision.

Broadcast & Viewing…

McCarthy: Let’s fast forward to 2018. Let’s assume you get the green light, the sanction, everything is great. Where can the fan at home watch?
Anderson: Basically right now we are negotiating some different contracts and stuff. It will be a webcast. Will it be The Rugby Channel? I don’t know. I’m not sure. Will it be NBC? A broadcast deal has to be made. And all of the teams will individually steam just like Glendale does now, but the game of the week presented by the league will be what American entertainment is all is watching like the pros. On a webcast, hopefully we are able to negotiate a broadcast deal for our title sponsors for the fans. So that is in the works right now.
McCarthy: Would it be behind a paywall or would it be free?
Anderson: I don’t know. I’m not sure. I have no idea to be honest.
McCarthy: Too early for that I suppose.
Diana: You’re ahead of us.

MLR and PRO Merger…

McCarthy: Let me just give you a hypothetical, and crazier things have happened. What would happened if USA Rugby and PRO Rugby reach an agreement that says you have to combine with MLR. Is that a possibility?
Anderson: I’m not the league, I’m not the commissioner, and certainly not an owner so I don’t know. That would have to go back to a board of governors meeting with the owner to determine that. I have no idea. That’s an interesting thought.
McCarthy: Crazier things have happened. There have been lawsuits, there have been allegations, we’re not all privy to 100% on what’s going on all the time and it’s an active volcano.
Anderson: You’re right. I agree.

Buying Teams…

Again, wrong MRL.

McCarthy: So my final question is if you have parties that are interested in getting an MLR franchise in their city, what do they do?
Anderson: I think that the info at Rugby United Marketing is the best contact. That goes directly to the development manager there and the league office and they can answer those questions.
McCarthy: Fair enough. For whatever reason, and I’m sure it’s coincidental, we do things in American rugby where we have entities named in a similar fashion… you’ve got Rugby United Marketing compared to Rugby International Marketing. And we’ve got USA Rugby, USA Sevens, Play Rugby USA, PRO Rugby, and now we’ve got a Pro 12 franchise that they’re talking about coming over here. Fans that are getting into this stuff, their heads are spinning with all of the different names that are like the same.
Anderson: I agree. We kind of like ours though. RUM works, why not?

McCarthy: It works. Well thank you Diana, thank you for your time, thank you for coming on. It’s greatly appreciated and so is your transparency and honesty, it’s refreshing.
Anderson: Thank you so much Matt, its appreciated.

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About the Author ()

Matt McCarthy comes to RugbyWrapUp.com from their partner in the USA, MeetTheMatts.com. RWU and MTM feature a stable of diverse contributors, with coverage that is both serious and with a wink.
  • Tony Ridnell

    Nice interview Matt, and great job Diana! This is nothing short of outstanding on all counts. Once structure is in place, there will be big money wanting to come into the game here.

    • Doug Lyons

      I got nothing from this interview that gives any clarity to be quite honest Tony. After two aborted attempts at professional rugby I think it is imperative that the next iteration demonstrate that it has the true financial wherewithal to sustain itself AND that it will be a league that moves the needle forward with the domestic game. The interview was quite vague in my opinion.

      I hope these folks can make it work but this certainly doesn’t offer anything other than generalities.

      Would you invest in something this vague?

      • Tony Ridnell

        Hey Doug, we should all remember that no one in this league, or it’s structure, “owe’s” anything to the outside world. So, saying this is vague and too general an interview it a bit unfair (IMO). I think it’s great Diana gave the information she did. I am sure more info will be coming (but doubt significant financial detail), and from my limited conversations with some of the protagonists in MLR, I am impressed with the vision and the level of detail already in place. I wouldn’t invest in something this vague (although I am sure I have in my life :-() , but I am sure if I was a candidate for investment, that all the detail necessary would be required.

        This is what we have. It is the first grass roots attempt at semi professionalism in terms of a league or competition. This should be supported 100%. I believe that true financial wherewithal will come 1-2 years later as (hopefully) the league can become more ‘national’, and attract the attention of some real money; either media and/or additional input from overseas that I have mentioned in my blog.

        • Aaron

          Tony I disagree with the statement of Semi-Professionalism. The roll out of information has no necessarily been in the sequence of how I would have. It has been executed very professionally. The salaries being what they are, are still of a professional athlete. Although I see the weight of those approaching the Mitre 10 Cup in a decade if no sooner with how the game grows.

          • Tony Ridnell

            Aaron, I guess it is a matter of semantics. First, let’s be sure we are clear, “Professional Rugby, and getting Paid to play Rugby are two different things”. You don’t need to get paid to be ‘professional’. In this case, I think MLR has taken an exceptionally professional approach to their opening and development. My comment about ‘semi-professionalism’, circles around the fact that salaries in this league will not compare to ‘professional leagues’ for several/many years. That’s all. Disagree all you want, it’s a matter of semantics. I am supportive of this entity, 100%. Time will tell.

          • Free broadcast is important for whomever does this next.

  • nick s,

    My question or concern. What about SFGG ? Is SFGG interested or have they been approached, of so why say no. PRP and MLR don’t have scheduled conflict and PRP isn’t a professional comp.

    • Tony Ridnell

      Nick, read the article in full. There are many teams that either did not want to make a commitment this year, or could not. I am sure moving forward SFGG is in the mix, as all the CAL CUP teams should. Perhaps, this becomes “MLR West”

  • Aaron

    You get a naysayers approach when you execute a leak and don’t follow up with a press release and then a press conference. This is good though. Thanks for the work, I’ll send a message in a bit.

  • scott coan

    Excellent article – sounds like MLR has their ducks in a row. I do have to question where the players are going to come from though. 9 teams will take roughly 270 players, add 3 more clubs on each coast and we are talking 15 teams / 450 players. PRO had 5 teams / 150 players and the quality of rugby athlete was pretty damn poor. Seems to me that MLR will need to source half it’s players from overseas. No way this flies if they think they can do it with strictly American players.

  • All Blacks Rule

    What about salaries and moving players to the cities?

  • MavsFan

    I thank Diana for Sharing, but we want something that is going to stick. I think a combination of the ProRugby approach and the MLR approach would be best, start with fewer teams in a tighter area, then branch out as quality gets better and proof of concept occurs. I agree with Scott Coan, that the number of players needed for this league to hit off sounds like Super League level, which was certainly not Professional. The piece I do like is allowing teams to run themselves and meet standards. Maybe start with 6 of the 9 and if a team begins to falter in structure, bring in one of the other clubs waiting in the wings. Also, why not start with jusnt centrally located teams, they are the teams desperate to get higher level rugby going, Chicago, Austin, Glendale, KC, Houston, Dallas. Play 10 matches per team and then playoffs of 1 vs 4, 2 vs 3, 5 vs 6. Then G1 winner vs Game 2 winner for Championship. Loser of Game 3 gets to Zulu run through tunnel after the tourney is done….

    • Aaron

      What was the PRO Rugby Approach? Not meeting with dignitaries, CFO (Pay Roll and Accounting), no marketing, having personal control of the facebook and twitter accounts, not paying your league doctor so he quits, etc. To be honest, all the pub that Schoninger got from the overseas Rugby Media had to have been done on a contract basis.

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