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USAR: An Open Letter to the USA Rugby Community

  • 16 Jun 2023
  • 3674 Views

USA RUGBY – Fellow Members of the Rugby Community,

As the Board of USA Rugby, we want to, as promised, update you on the activities of the National Office after our May 17 Board of Directors meeting and a productive Annual Meeting of Councils held in Glendale, CO and on-line on May 20.

We are focusing on two critical questions related to the future of USA Rugby:

• How do we facilitate sustainable growth in participation across our communities from a playing, coaching, refereeing and administration perspective?
• How do we give our National Teams the platform and tools to be consistently successful in annual events and ultimately win medals at Olympic Games and Rugby World Cups on a regular basis?

We have undertaken three initiatives to begin to address these questions:

• Strategic Review
• High Performance Review
• Rugby Growth Strategy for America.

The below segments to this open letter cover these activities.

In addition, USA Rugby is preparing for a change in leadership with Ross Young’s decision to transition from USA Rugby CEO to work with World Rugby on the upcoming Rugby World Cups in 2031 and 2033.

We believe these initiatives and the changes that result will underpin the long-term growth and health of rugby in the United States, at both the Community and High-Performance levels. As we move forward with these efforts, we will continue to rely on input from the USA Rugby community on the initiatives and the proposed changes to governance, financial and High-Performance structures.

Thank you for your ongoing support of our great game. We will provide an update on progress in the Fall.

Signed USA Rugby Board of Directors:

Tom Cusack, Steve Argeris, Jamie Burke, Victoria Folayan, Koma Gandy, Michael Garner, Rick Humm, Paul Keeler, Denis Shanagher, Bill Stevens, Brett Thompson

Beantown rugby

Hallie Taufoou / Photo: Jackie Finlan

Strategic Review

USA Rugby engaged a volunteer group of Harvard Business School alumni and others with significant management, consulting, and community experience in USA Rugby to undertake a complete strategic review of USA Rugby’s organizational, governance and financial structures. This included a review of management, how dues and other revenues are raised and spent, and what may be best practices going forward.

The preliminary recommendations from the Strategy Team fell into four principal areas:

• Communities: Be very clear about the value proposition that USA Rugby provides to its members. Make clear what USA Rugby is to provide to the Communities and what the Communities are to do for themselves under the post-bankruptcy governance model. Develop a strong customer service orientation toward the Communities.

• Finance and Governance: Prioritize financial stability and sustainability. Retain effective leadership, especially a CFO and Compliance Director. Restructure the governance through a review of the by-laws to incorporate NGB best practices and to bring new skills to the Board to help the organization.

• High Performance: Focus on growing participation and pathways and invest in HP management and infrastructure.

• Equity and Safety: Implement equity and safety throughout the organization to promote safety, inclusion and wellness. In response, the National Office reported to the Councils on several new initiatives, with others to follow:

Communities:

To help improve services to its members, USA Rugby has established a new call center, through Focus on the Field, to respond to member inquiries and include a tracking system to ensure these inquiries are resolved promptly. We are also hoping to have the resources to fill three new positions to serve the Communities. We are working on better communication of our value proposition for the membership with more to come on this in the coming months. Members looking for service or support may call the new provider at +1 720-263-2433.

Finance:

Consistent with the findings of the Strategy Team, it has become clear that if USA Rugby is to fulfill its mission and provide improved services to its community members and high-performance athletes, it needs additional funding for the National Office. New financing would help create positions to augment the current nine-person organization and support our National Teams and 100,000+ members.

There is an immediate need to fill the following positions:

• Senior Financial Officer – essential to financial accounting, reporting, and control requirements for a $14+ million organization, which we anticipate will be growing rapidly to administer USA Rugby and World Rugby growth initiatives in the lead up to Rugby World Cup 2031 and 2033.

• Compliance Director – essential to address the growing and complicated reporting requirements for SafeSport, the USOPC, and World Rugby, as well as the growth initiatives. According to the USOPC, USA Rugby is currently the only National Governing Body of similar size without this full-time position.

• Community Liaison Positions – as noted above, the National Office intends to provide additional administrative support to each of the Youth and High School, College and Club Councils and respective Communities, but does not yet have the funds to hire that support.

While both the National Office and High-Performance programs have operated within their funding levels for the last three years, their ability to improve performance has been hindered by the lack of adequate staffing. The absence of meaningful commercial and event revenue in 2022 has also significantly impacted overall performance.

To address these challenges in part, and as previously reported,

1. USA Rugby has entered into a commercial rights agreement with World Rugby by which USA Rugby’s commercial and event rights will be promoted and executed by World Rugby in exchange for a guaranteed annual minimum commercial payment from World Rugby. The result of this new arrangement will be significantly larger commercial revenues than previously realized by marketing these assets on our own while removing the risks and cash flow burdens associated with events. As this new arrangement gains traction, and success in the marketplace is realized over the next ten years, we expect this commercial rights agreement will generate revenue to USAR well more than the minimum guarantee.

2. Management has also proposed a $10 increase in member dues effective in August 2023. This will allow us to meet our commitments to serve the community and to help fund the National Office positions discussed above. It should be noted that USA Rugby dues are in the bottom quartile of National Governing Bodies in the United States, and the current dues levels are essentially equivalent to our levels of twenty (20) years ago. As might be expected, this proposal has generated significant discussion with the Councils which are ongoing as of this letter.

There continue to be funding challenges regarding our High-Performance programs. Significant increases in funding are necessary if our teams are to be competitive on the world stage.

Governance:

At the Annual Meeting of Councils, USA Rugby CEO Ross Young announced his intention to pivot and work alongside World Rugby’s management and organizing team for the Rugby World Cups here in the USA in 2031 and 2033. That transition is expected to occur later this year. In anticipation, the Board will undertake a review process this summer for updating the role and selection of a new CEO. We want to thank Ross for his leadership of the organization through the ups and downs of the last few years. We would not have been awarded the World Cups without his leadership. He made it happen. As a result, we will all be beneficiaries of World Rugby investment in our Communities and our High-Performance programs leading up to the World Cups. Thank you, Ross!

As noted, the Strategy group has recommended a comprehensive review of the USA Rugby Board composition and By-laws to meet USOPC requirements and to adopt best practices in NGB governance structures. This would include the identification and addition of new skills to the Board to support the organization, including, but not limited to, experts in commercial sponsorship, high performance, and communications.

The Board will review our governance structure as outlined in our By-Laws. Along with that process, the Board will soon consider adopting and/or updating a variety of policies including several required by the USOPC that address governance issues including Codes of Conduct, Grievance Procedures, Conflicts of Interest, Gifts and Entertainment, and Substance Abuse. We expect to provide further details on these efforts in the Fall.

High Performance

High Performance is discussed in more detail in the High-Performance initiative section of this letter.

Equity and Safety

Management has restructured our Medical Committee and retained an outside firm to provide these services to our national teams. We believe this will provide improved responsiveness and care to our players to get them healthy and back on the field as quickly and safely as possible. We are committed to complying to both the letter and spirit of the new “Equal Pay for Team USA” Federal regulations as they begin to take effect from 2024. This will involve a hard look at budgets across all our programs to ensure compliance.

Life West rugby

Mele Taumoefolau / Photo: Jackie Finlan

High Performance Review

After assessing the performance of our teams in 2022, we continue to work with World Rugby on a full and comprehensive review of our High-Performance programs and structures. This review has considered the following:

• Organizational structure and responsibilities.
• Processes for identifying and developing both players and coaches in proper pathways, including but not limited to youth, college and club; and
• Metrics and milestones that measure our performance to ensure we are moving forward and are constantly improving.

The World Rugby High Performance review noted that COVID, the bankruptcy and the downsizing of the National office has created enormous challenges for the organization including our HP programs. A transformational change in the HP programs with focus and disciplined execution requires additional capability, capacity, and clear lines of responsibility and the authority to drive the projects towards the desired outcomes. The recommendations include:

1. The establishment of a singular-focused and empowered HP oversight and management group including USA Rugby and World Rugby representatives to oversee and drive the implementation of the WR recommendations. This group will have direct delegated authority over all World Rugby HP program investments.

2. World Rugby will help select and fund up to five experienced High-Performance personnel across all our national teams and pathways. The recruitments of a General Manager of High Performance and a High-Performance Manager for Women’s Rugby are in progress. [See: USA Rugby Careers for application info]

3. The Board has directed that, in the future, all senior national team head coaches and program leaders must reside full time in the USA. Clear expectations and KPIs will be established for each team. National team coaches will be expected to assist in the development of other U.S.-based coaches to build capabilities across USA Rugby.

World Rugby is also committed to providing more clarity and certainty around international calendars so that our Men’s and Women 15’s have more games, providing not only requisite experience but additional sponsorship opportunities.

The Women’s Eagles have played two matches this year, with a win over Spain and a loss to Canada. They will continue their Pacific Four Series campaign in July against Australia and New Zealand in Ottawa, and in the WXV Competition in either New Zealand or South Africa in November. There are also potentially exciting opportunities being developed for Women’s Rugby through the World Rugby’s Project Accelerate program, in which World Rugby leadership met with USA Rugby this spring to discuss a framework for growth over the next few years.

In the short term, the Men’s Eagles will play three matches in Europe this August against Romania, Georgia, and Portugal as those teams prepare for Rugby World Cup 2023. There will be a match against French Club Stade Toulousain in Utah on September 17. Exploration of a November series and a new yearly competition among the Pacific Rim nations continues. Congratulations to our Women’s Sevens team, which finished third in the 2022-23 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, thereby automatically qualifying for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. The team members are great ambassadors for USA Rugby, both on and off the field.

After starting well in the Series, our Men’s Sevens were faced with injuries and experience challenges, ultimately finishing 10th on the year. The next opportunity to qualify for the Paris Olympics will be at the RAN Sevens Qualifier tournament held in Canada this August. The Board are confident and proud of the effort the Men’s Sevens have made to continue growing as a young program and look forward to them representing the USA in Langford, and soon after the Olympic games.

There is a renewed emphasis on our Pathways programs, and our Men’s and Women’s U18, U20 and U23 teams all have expanded schedules through the end of this year, both in 15’s and 7’s. Congratulations to our Men’s USA U20s who have qualified for the U20 World Rugby Trophy in Kenya by virtue of a two-match victory over Canada, and our Women’s U23s for an impressive showing in Brazil to capture the 2023 Americas Rugby Trophy title.

Amazons rugby

Photo: Jackie Finlan @therugbybreakdown

World Rugby Growth Strategy for the Americas

As part of the conditions associated with our Rugby World Cup awards, we are supporting World Rugby in the development of their growth strategy for the game in the Americas. This plan will then be the basis for World Rugby’s investment of resources in the United States leading up to the 2031 and 2033 Rugby World Cups.

As part of the process of meeting the requirements of our Rugby World Cup awards, we have supported World Rugby in their development of their growth and investment strategy for the Americas. The plan was reviewed by the World Rugby Executive Board in March and presented to the World Rugby Council in May.

There will be a series of meetings this summer between USA Rugby and World Rugby to begin the implementation of the plan and World Rugby’s investment of resources in the United States leading up to the 2031 and 2033 Rugby World Cups. This will include discussions with each of the community groups on their “growth of the game” plans and initiatives.

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