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Some 120 or so players are now in pre-season training for PRO Rugby. Their first pay checks are supposed to be disseminated at the end of the month. Professional rugby, it appears, has arrived.
Not all five teams, in San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Denver and Columbus, have inked all their players or have all of them in camp. But the coaching staffs are finally in place, and the players are trickling in and getting prepped for opening kickoff April 17.
If this all seems a little rushed, because the uniforms look a little plain, the teams have no nicknames, there has been little-to-no marketing, the schedule was only just announced last week, tickets aren’t on sale, etc., that’s because it is.
In PRO Rugby’s exclusive sanctioning agreement with USA Rugby resides a shot clock of sorts, a use-it-or-lose-it clause, dictating that the league has to get off the ground in 2016. So while it would seem wise to wait a year and put a little more polish on the product before bringing it to market, and I think those at PRO Rugby would agree, that simply wasn’t an option.
That’s perhaps why the league disseminates its news solely through a Facebook page where it’s all but guaranteed to be found by only true American rugby nuts. PRO Rugby doesn’t seem to particularly want the greater American public to catch on, at least not in this beta run.
Get the games going, keep the exclusive sanctioning, show proof of a tangible product, establish the market for this type of competition amongst the fanatics on the back of no marketing – social media numbers, attendance, page views, eyeballs on a webcast, etc. That seems to be the plan for year one, with the hopes of media partners, sponsors and non-rugby ticket sales in the second year.
That is going to mean losses. Pay for 15 coaches, a front office guy, 150 or so players, practice facilities, stadium rentals, training staff, travel to and from every game, etc. equates to a lot of money going out. Relying on just the rugby freaks for income is going to mean a lot less money coming in. PRO Rugby is going to lose heaps of cash in year one. At least seven figures, but hopefully not eight.
So the question, with PRO Rugby getting on the field and playing a slate of games now appearing imminent, has become, how much can the league’s creator and sole proprietor, Doug Schoninger, stand to lose? No one can really answer that but the man himself, and the answer will only come in time.
There’s no telling if PRO Rugby will be our Major League Soccer, or the defunct North American Soccer League. Will it be our NFL, or end up more like the UFL, XFL or USFL? Only that answer will come in time, too.
But I finally feel comfortable saying there is professional rugby in the United States, however fleeting it may end up being. The NRFL and Grand Prix and others have claimed to deliver in the past and never followed through. PRO Rugby, it appears, will, at least for one season. And that’s a watershed moment in the annals of American rugby.