NEW YORK, NY – A fine line exists between reporting on rugby, doing interviews and remaining objective. Without question, the Rugby Wrap Up aim is to stay impartial re rugby news – we’re not a network with a lean. And while we have a good thing going because this great game is rife with colorful and generous personalities, we’d be nowhere without our diverse staff. Keeping that staff, who tweet and post as individuals, and their wide-ranging opinions in-step with an often blurred standard of objectivity, is no easy task. That task falls on the shoulders of our Editor-In-Chief – yours truly – who is not in the habit of offering opinions publicly. However, with the slumbering giant that is American Rugby awakening, emotions are high, issues are being raised, conspiracy theories bandied and optimism questioned as blind. With that, the time seemed right to offer my two cents. Hopefully, 30 years of playing mediocre to awful rugby, in-stadium hosting the Vegas 7s & CRC 7s, the honor of being Team USA’s RWC 2015 Media Manager and creating/running this site and it’s American cousin, MeetTheMatts.com, will cover that two cents, keep you reading and offer some insight on Much Ado About Rugby in America…
Full Disclosure: This Op-Ed is partly the product of rethinking the decision to green-light our Q&A with Hywel ap Rees and asking PRO Rugby’s Steve Lewis to respond to Mr. ap Rees’ concerns/allegations on camera. Did Rees have enough of a relationship with USA Rugby to warrant giving him a platform? Should certain questions lobbed at Lewis, who is the Director of Rugby, been reserved for CEO Schoninger? As the boss you make decisions. The key is learning from them. We helped Rees air his criticisms, and one could argue that this might have been the kind of unrelenting and uninformed criticism that only brings the rugby community in America down. But it’s not on Rees. It’s on me. The buck stops here.
The other reasons for this Op-Ed are as follows:
PRO Rugby: Why people are bashing the fledgling league is perplexing, to say the least. It’s not the NFL. They are clearly not trying to be the NFL. One guy, the aforementioned Schoninger, has put himself and his wallet on the line to bring professional rugby union to American shores. American soil… and he’s getting ripped to shreds by some folks. It just doesn’t add up. PRO Rugby is real. It’s doing what none before have, and they’re getting grief. Why? The tickets are cheap, comparatively speaking, and we can likely watch the matches for free on the web. Is it a perfect marching out of a professional league? No. But it’s pretty damned good – certainly better than anything we’ve had before – and it’s got this pundit downright giddy. Granted, that giddiness may quell a tad during the NYC-Obetz drive but I’m in, nonetheless. Get yourself to the matches nearest you, watch them on line and support this *frogging tile thing. (*See video at end for explanation)
You need a more significant reason to get behind this? How about 190 Rugby Jobs in America?! That does not include game-day operations staff, stadium concessions, security or production crews? Think that doesn’t matter? Go to Obetz, OH and see what the folks there say. Start with Anthony Parry. He’s a local getting a shot as a prop. It also doesn’t include media types like us, who will now have more content to tickle our collective fancies. That is cool.
USA Rugby: The number of those that have positive things to say publicly about “the national governing body for the sport of rugby in America,” is dwarfed by those that post or tweet negative views. That’s the nature of the beast that is social media. When you’re angry, you fire away. When you’re content, you go to the fridge or have a beer. Or both. And the ire is always directed at the boss. In this case it’s CEO Nigel Melville. The outgoing boss is moving on to become the CEO of RIM (Rugby International Marketing). Don’t know what RIM is? As per the USA Rugby press release we posted here…
“Created by USA Rugby, Rugby International Marketing is a unique ‘for profit’ commercial entity that will build a strong revenue generation team representing USA Rugby’s current commercial rights and developing new revenue streams to fund the game. The mission of Rugby International Marketing is to provide incremental financial resources to USA Rugby by utilizing third-party capital in an entrepreneurially-driven, for-profit company that leverages the commercial opportunities available to USA Rugby.”
Basically, USA Rugby is a non-profit and some smart cookies on the Board of Directors saw the need for a for-profit partner. They helped form RIM and Melville was selected to run it. Whether you like that arrangement or not, you have to realize that Nigel came to Colorado after a successful run in England to become CEO in 2006, with not much more than a phone and some interns. Ten years later, youth rugby is growing quickly, our Men and Women are competing for Olympic medals, an Olympic quality sprinter and Super Bowl Champion are raising the American Rugby Profile, an American version of the Six Nations just completed its first run, a Rugby Channel is being launched on the web and sanctioned professional rugby is kicking off this month. Those are facts. It’s also a fact that professional rugby has only been around since 1996 – anywhere. All things considered, that’s not a bad track record. Could it have been better? Maybe. Were mistakes made? Sure. But after 10 years and these accomplishments, is Melville’s move to run RIM a product of some conspiracy? No. Is it legal? That’s not for a guy with a University at Buffalo English B.A. to say, but would they be talking about it publicly if it wasn’t? This isn’t about WMD’s.
London Irish vs Saracens: 14,000 fans went to Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ (we’re saying Newark), to see a regular season Aviva Premiership match for the first time in the USA. This was pulled off by The Legacy Agency, Premiership Rugby, London Irish and Sarries. The match was live on NBC Sports. This was a big deal, right? You bet it was. Yet, some of you out there weren’t impressed. Are you standards too high? Do you want NZ vs South Africa on a loop? This was solid, professional rugby within spitting distance of NYC, on a major network. If nothing else, we got to see a legendary warrior like Jacques Burger play in a non-exhibition match. And like the aforementioned Schoninger, Lewis and Melville, Burger made himself available to us. What did it take for them to answer our questions? We asked them if they would. Simple.
Bottom Line: Rugby is growing in the USA. Kids are playing, parents are curious and the Internet and 8 million cable stations have unprecedented programming content needs. Two weeks ago, Xavier High School in NYC celebrated the 40th Anniversary of their vaunted rugby program. Fortieth. This is a NYC high school with no grass or even space between buildings. The teeming gym was bursting with 300+ ruggers. There were dignitaries, recent Eagles, current club players and the retired. All talking rugby – mostly in NY accents – and enjoying themselves. A large, rowdy group with rugby as a unifying bond. In an instant the hub-bub halted and all were quiet when school President Jack Raslowsky greeted them. All broke into a Hail Mary. Regardless of ones religious beliefs, this was a cool moment. It was a rugby moment, too.
America is ready for that. It’s ready to be introduced to the rugby way of things. But we need to get our expectations in check and put the bashing on hold for a bit. The game is finally in a position to prosper, warts and all… Let’s get behind this surge and see to it that The Much Ado About Rugby in America is more Much Ado About Nothing.
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*Watch this for Frogging Tile explanation… and a laugh: