NEW YORK, NY – It’s been quite the calendar year for USA Rugby, “the national governing body for the sport of rugby in America.” We’ve seen the Men’s Eagles host Australia at Soldier Field, a World Cup, an exciting 7s World Series and a return to the Summer Olympics, all flash before our eyes on the pitch. Off the pitch, we’ve seen the implementation of RIM (Rugby International Marketing), a CEO swap/exodus/search/appointment, the formation of PRO Rugby and it’s successful debut season… But it’s this latest move that may be the most interesting – and impacting – yet; the naming of Will Chang as Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Who is Will Chang and why is he important? Glad you asked… The short answer is that Will Chang is a big-time businessman whom makes money via professional sports, producing films and venture capitalism. With an Economics degree from Harvard – where he played rugby – this Japanese-born, sharp cookie is exactly what USA Rugby needs.
There. I said it. Start shooting off your letters, organize your protest marches outside RWU HQ – we’re in Hell’s Kitchen, so be prepared – and resume poking needles in your effigies of yours truly (they don’t work, FYI). None of that will change certain facts… like:
1) There is a short list of all short lists that includes successful media moguls who played rugby, and are crazy enough to devote large chunks of their lifetimes and professional reputations to the game’s growth in America. That list has Will Chang and Jon Prusmack on it. That’s it. Doug Schoninger – the man behind Pro Rugby – certainly gets mention, but he never played… Mark Cuban is yet to take the financial plunge and Yours Humbly ain’t no mogul, so I can’t be on this list… yet.
2) Chang is 40% owner of D.C. United and part owner of the San Francisco Giants (and AT&T Park). Those are professional sports teams, which means he knows a thing or two about “the sports biz.”
3) Newly appointed USA Rugby CEO Dan Payne has many strengths. His biggest strength is likely that he is on good terms with everyone in rugby in The States and will have a solid shot at uniting the clans. He’s also been around the block and back with the organization, despite his relatively young age. His biggest weakness, critics will point out, is that he doesn’t have the corporate CEO experience that some say is a must. But having a guy like Chang working with him sure as hell helps. And don’t under-estimate Payne because he looks like he could star in a new version of Bay Watch. He’s smart and knows enough to know when to ask for help.
4) Will Chang listens, thinks and acts… I’ve seen it first-hand. You don’t get to be at his station in life without hearing what people – whether it’s film-goers or sports fans or employees or board members – without having those attributes in your cache. I’ll always remember one night early last summer when Chang had the Eagles (and me as their Media Manager) to a BBQ at a cool place (can’t give you all the details). He talked about how he heard their concerns and how they deserved more than just playing for the National Team a few times annually for their sacrifices with job and family. He said that would change. BOOM. In an eye-blink we have PRO Rugby, the Americas Rugby Championship (our version of the Six Nations) and the formation of USA Rugby’s profitable arm, RIM. That’s a ton. And you can throw in the 7s World Cup going to San Francisco and the launch of The Rugby Channel in for good measure.
Did he do it all himself? No. But you can bet your rent money he had MUCH to do with it. And the feeling here is that this is just the beginning. Stay tuned.
That’s all for now. Feel free to comment below. We’re there for the following on Twitter@: @RugbyWrapUp, @BrianCCole, @Junoir Blaber, @MeetTheMatts, @LukeBienstock, @Ronan Nelson, @GeHar and @Declan Yeats. and you get bonus giving us our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page, a “Like.”
P.s… For those that say this pundit is benefiting financially or in any other way from writing a pro-Chang piece, my landlord and American Express will tell you that’s horse hockey.