In late November 2019, USA Rugby revealed that it was expected to go $1.5 million over its projected budget for fiscal year 2019. The budgetary woes were attributed to an overspend by the Men’s XVs National Team and a shortfall in budgeted revenue.
As many of you know, USA Rugby was already in a difficult financial position due to the failure of an entity it formed called Rugby International Marketing (RIM; now known as USA Rugby Partners) and a large loss from hosting the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco.
As result of another projected loss, USA Rugby made a series of personnel moves within its office, and its Board has decided to accelerate its strategic plan to separate out community and high performance organizational efforts. This has been accelerated even further by the formation of a Task Force, requested by USA Rugby chair Barbara O’Brien, and led by USA Rugby Partners chair Jon Bobbett, that has revealed an aggressive timeline for change. The formation of this Task Force has also catalyzed many community groups to self-organize, e.g. calls are being held between a body of union presidents from around the country, and the college community has created an advisory panel of constituent members.
It has not been lost on the union presidents and other organizational leaders, nor the Congress, that most of the financial woes for USA Rugby are related to struggles in the high performance and commercial areas. Many don’t buy the narrative concerning a philanthropic revenue shortfall, as the budgeted goal was 80+% higher than the organization had ever raised previously, and 2019 was actually a record year for fundraising. To that end, the 2019 overall budget seemed aspirational at best.
Most importantly, it has not been overspending or underfunding from the community that has caused any of these issues. Ever. The community contributes over $5.5 million in dues annually and does not receive that amount in services - no matter how one attempts to add up expenses. In fact, community programming has seen cuts for three consecutive years now despite increases in dues collected.
From a Rocky Mountain Rugby perspective, it’s becoming readily apparent that our relationship with USA Rugby will be different in the years moving forward. The details of that are still to be determined but our executive leadership has been highly engaged with the process. There have been thousands of emails and hundreds of calls logged in the past two months which have been beyond the scope and time of our typical leadership duties.
Most of USA Rugby’s wounds are self-inflicted as result of a series of governance reforms from 2005-2013 that were poorly thought-out, as well as recent business moves in the years since. We’re now seeing the byproduct of those decisions in the struggles of the past few years. Those changes undermined our broader sense of community and made working collaboratively more difficult. However, the most recent budgetary blunder has awakened the community, and much of the membership is committed to the idea that no matter what happens moving forward, we need to try and move forward together as a community.
Rocky Mountain Rugby has been fortunate to not let outside forces affect it too much. When other unions decided the formation of college conferences meant that college programs should leave their unions, we thought that’d be a bad idea. We never bought the idea that unions were club organizations that happened to have other teams. In the spirit of collaboration, our college conferences work within the union, just like our club leagues do. We aren’t a club union with college programs; we’re an adult union that has a diversity of members and competitions.
In our talks with others, we are committed to working together to rebuild our community, to protect everyone’s interests as well as possible, and to fight for a maximized return on investment on the dues you give to any organization.
More information will come on this topic in the weeks and months to come, and Rocky Mountain Rugby wants you to know that your voice will be heard. Stay tuned for updated information on a potential extraordinary general meeting (EGM), as well as other in-person opportunities to engage your elected representatives. Rocky Mountain Rugby will also be distributing surveys to programs and individuals shortly, after a series of discussions with our partners about the potential paths forward.
All the best,
President, Rocky Mountain Rugby (RMR)
RMR Congress Representative to USA Rugby
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