PRO Rugby CEO Becoming Toxic to American Rugby

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Denver players recite the Pledge of Allegiance prior to the start of the inaugural match of Professional Rugby Organization (PRO) against Ohio at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colorado on Sunday, April 17, 2016. Ohio was defeated by Denver in overtime 16-13. PRO Rugby is comprised of the five rugby union teams located in North America, and is the first competition to be sanctioned by USA Rugby and World Rugby. / AFP / Jason Connolly (Photo credit should read JASON CONNOLLY/AFP/Getty Images)

PRO Rugby CEO takes out frustration with USA Rugby on players.

On December 19 PRO Rugby issued a letter to contracted players. The entire letter can be viewed here, but here is an excerpt:
“As some of you may or may not know, we have been having serious issues with the cooperation and the enforcement of our agreement with USA Rugby. We have been actively trying to resolve our issues with USA Rugby for over four months and, unfortunately, it appears that USA Rugby will not honor the commitments they made to us.

Because of this, we are notifying all presently agreed players of PRO Rugby that we are exercising the Voluntary Termination clause in your contract (section 5(b)). We are hopeful, but with no assurances, that we will be able to resolve all issues with USA Rugby prior to end of the termination clause period.” rugbytoday.com

Douglas Schoninger, CEO of PRO Rugby, has decided that a spat with USA Rugby is more important than paying players. These men have already put in the work for his organization, and he is willing to hold them hostage.

The Issue

Prior to their initial season, Pro Rugby came to an agreement with USA Rugby for their support. The agreement involved some form of exclusivity clause to protect the growth of the domestic American competition. The details of the clause are unknown since they have not been released to the public.

In August details came to light that the Guinness Pro 12 league had an interest in expanding to the United States. The Pro 12 has been struggling in recent years to maintain revenue for the competition. The interest in USA rugby came from, as the Chairman put it, “There are sizeable Italian communities there, as well as Irish and Scottish…” The Guardian.

PRO Rugby stated, “We have been actively trying to resolve our issues with USA Rugby for over four months.” That timeline matches up with the statement by the PRO 12. It is likely that PRO Rugby’s concern is based on those discussions with USA Rugby.

The Reaction

Since the details of the termination clause were released the immediate belief was that PRO Rugby was at an end.

These details being made public prompted a Statement by USA Rugby.  USA Rugby is denying all accusations by Pro Rugby. The details of the USA position are not available as they have refused to elaborate on an ongoing disagreement.

This is not the first time PRO Rugby has punished players without reason.

On November 2nd details were released that PRO Rugby’s planned expansion into Canada would not become a reality. ” Rugby Canada is disappointed an agreement couldn’t be reached with PRO Rugby to allow the U.S.-based professional league to expand into Canada.” Rugby Canada. The issue for Canada was that PRO Rugby wanted exclusive operating rights in Canada. The Rugby Canada CEO, Allan Vansen, stated that he appreciated what PRO Rugby was doing for North American Rugby, “However, we cannot limit and restrict the opportunities that established international professional rugby would bring to Canada for the benefit of our players and the growth of the game.”

As a result of the deal with Rugby Canada falling through, Douglas Schoninger announced an essential ban of Canadian players. “There might be some exceptions, but our general program is to support people that support us.” cbc.ca.

Pro Rugby’s handling of the situation has been completely unprofessional.

Since the initial statement by Pro Rugby, their twitter account has decided that every source of decent from their narrative must be silenced. An American rugby fan tweeted that PRO Rugby was afraid of having to compete against other competitions. PRO Rugby’s official reply was inappropriate and unprofessional.

Comments like his are common place on Twitter. A professional organization must show restraint when dealing with Twitter users. PRO Rugby has been continuously pointing fingers at USA Rugby since news broke yesterday. USA Rugby is behaving as would be expected for an organization in this discussion. Pro Rugby, however, has not. If the CEO of PRO is not running their Twitter account, whoever is should be fired. As I stated earlier this evening on Twitter:

Pro Rugby has no interest in growing the game

Pro Rugby is attempting to play the role of the offended party, and failing miserably at it. In these scenarios the best thing you can do is keep your mouth shut. Once the details have been settled, then make your public statements. Do not try to take on all comers on Twitter. This controversy is quickly becoming an embarrassment to rugby in the United States.

Douglas Schoninger is not concerned with the American rugby game. If he was he would be much more willing to negotiate instead of passing draconian bans. He is threatening the professional equivalent of taking his ball and going home. He is not in a strong enough position to be able to make demands of USA Rugby. With interest in North America by both Pro 12 and Super Rugby, he barely has a leg to stand on as is. He also faces competition from American grown clubs that are interested in going pro, such as the Austin Huns. Instead of trying to use USA Rugby as a guard dog against his rugby monopoly, he should concentrate on improving his product. Competition is coming and there is no stopping it. Douglas Schoninger would do best to realize that.

Even with their disagreement, Douglas Schoninger is wrong to hold the players’ livelihood at bay. These men have committed their time and effort to fill his pockets, and he should at least fulfill his commitment to paying them. How can he expect to recruit new players if they could be released randomly to spite someone else? He is trying to blackmail USA Rugby into giving him what he wants, and does not care who gets hurt in the process.

Centralized ownership is bad for the league

Douglas Schoninger is the sole owner of all of PRO Rugby. He owns both the organization and every team. If this were any other organization, the other owners could tell him how bad his plan was and refuse to support him. as it sits he controls all interests and there is no hope for checks and balances to help. One man cannot be allowed to hold the development of the USA professionally on his own. It is bad for business and can lead to dangerous and embarrassing stands like what we are experiencing now.

The situation between PRO Rugby and USA Rugby must be resolved. The controversy is embarrassing and hurts the image of the USA in the sport. Douglas Schoninger has continued to make decisions that are not in the best interest of rugby, only himself. If he continues to behave the way he has he will run PRO Rugby into the ground. At the same time all other efforts professionally will have passed on the USA and they will progress out of the second tier.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Josh, Great synopsis, even better headline.

    Point of Fact: Doug Schoninger is the sole admin of PRO’s FB & Twitter accounts. It is well known that those accounts are as first person as are Trump’s tweets.

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