The coming of professional competition already may be reshaping American rugby’s top end.
Last weekend’s meeting of senior clubs, rugby businesses, and USARFU personnel produced a working group which may turn into a permanent 'elite game development board', according to people familiar with the meeting.
Such an outcome would be notable in two respects. First, although Boulder has been suggesting it doesn’t have much to do with Pro Rugby, in fact it’s deeply involved in setting up the league, and will retain core responsibilities such as eligibility and discipline. A permanent body comprising premiership teams, union officials, and commercial executives would clarify the nexus.
Second, working alongside commerical actors, rather than dictating to subordinates or vendors, would be a step change in Boulder’s worldview. It’s the difference between the top of a hierarchy and the leading star in a constellation — between a traditional rugby union and a modern national governing body.
The adaptation could be important to USARFU’s plans to develop a digital content business comparable to ESPN or the Pac 12 Network. Both sports media businesses are heavily reliant on teams and third parties which sometimes have divergent agendas.
By contrast, the union’s record of sponsor retention has been lackluster, as evidenced by a succession of jersey vendors. The nadir: in 2012, Boulder was forced to settle a lawsuit brought by Kooga for breach of contract.
Formalizing the elite group might go through the union’s forthcoming strategic review, so it could be a half year or more in the making.
Also this past weekend, some 360 paid to attend a USARFU game development conference in San Francisco, up from 290 a year ago in Chicago.