In a time when American Professional Rugby is ‘rife with controversy’ the Austin Huns rugby club have a vision for growing a sustainable organization.
Pro Rugby in the United States has been a dream for many years. Last year, US Rugby had it’s first experience with a real professional league. However, fallout from the off season has left many American rugby fans concerned about the future of professional game in the States. The Austin Huns Club in Texas are one of only a few American rugby clubs who are offering players contracts, and through good management and a shared vision are closer to professionalism than any other club.
In 2017, the Austin Huns will be participating in the Major Rugby Championship. This competition interests many Americans because it involves several of the top clubs in the US. Last Word On Rugby (LWOR) had a chance to speak with Thierry Daupin about his vision for the Austin Huns and American rugby.
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We have the Major Rugby Championship coming up, where did the idea for this Championship come from?
Thierry Daupin“Last year we started looking for a different way to bring in new games, because the Red River Conference is only five teams. It’s 10 games home and away, and with that you have only five home games. When you try to build up the rugby community and especially to monetize it, you need to bring more games, and this is how it started.”
“So we contacted people from other clubs and states trying to bring people together to
have more games. Some large teams, like NOLA also need more games but they’re too far away to participate in the Red River Conference. From here, we started to approach clubs like this, who were large and also needed more games.
“All these games are friendly games. There’s no real competition, so people are saying this is a new league but Major Rugby Championship is just the name for friendly series of games. There’s no board, no people behind, there’s not even an entity.”
Would you categorize the Huns as being a ‘professional club?’
TD: “I don’t think we are a completely professional club yet, but we are aiming for that. Meaning that we’re professional in the way that we recruit and take care of our players. We’re really building our medicine and emergency people on the side of the field. You go to most of the games in the USA and there’s never an ambulance or medical team. So we are trying to change that. We are trying to change the way we build our staffing, with a real coaching team, real coaching management, and administrative management. That can give us the opportunity to become more professional.”
“You also need a home where people can come to watch their favorite team, a home where you can create an experience for the fans, a home where you can start create some revenues to improve every layers of the club to make it more performant, more exciting”.
“That’s why we brought more people to the structure and want to make sure we are going in the right direction so when professional rugby comes to the US we will be the team that people want to contact, because we will be ready.”
“We will be fully professional when we have 40 people in contract full time. That is when I can say we are fully professional. Not only that but when we can be a team of five coaches full time and a sports medicine doctor full time behind them, when we will have a structure where they can train full time. We are still a ways off from that.”
Note: All the players are under contract, but some are on part-time or a match day fee basis, so not all are full contracts.
“That is why we are working with Racing 92 in France and working with other clubs from other countries.”
Explain the Austin Huns’ relationship with Racing 92?
TD : “This is very very interesting and we are learning a lot. We started a partnership last year, like a sister club. Now Racing is very interested in what we are doing and building, so now they are looking to be more involved, maybe even financially. We are looking at the different options.”
The choice of the European professional club model, instead of the American professional team system?
TD: “We decided to follow a more European model of rugby, meaning that if we wanted to
create a fan base we needed to start from the bottom of the pyramid. We need to have a strong youth development. So they can dream that one day they can be the icon that is on the field on the Sunday or Saturday afternoon. I believe that we need to have every layer, from youth programs to dedicated fans to the most elite players, and that is what we are pushing.”
How do you intend building the base of the pyramid to grow the game?
TD: “You need to start somewhere, step by step. Bring the little kids from the neighborhood and give them a ball. They start to play and you have one team, and the next day you find another neighborhood with five kids. That’s how we will build it. To that we also need to give them the dream of what they can do and create a pathway. We didn’t choose Todd Clever for nothing, we wanted an icon. So that’s why we approached Todd.
We said we want you and the players with you to be the icon. So that we can attract young
kids that will look at you and say, “Dad, one day I want to be this guy.”
The Griffins decision not to participate in the Major Rugby Championship or Red River conference.
“I think they are also working hard to make something happen on their own. They just want to be ready, and we need to respect everyone on that. Timing is key. Anyway, right now there are a lot of different paths being forged. From PRP, ARP, Pro Rugby, Red River, every little thing is changing so it’s a transition year.
The availability of Huns home games online and on TV “Yes we will have both. We are working with a TV network in Texas to have the game on tv so that the game will be shared in bars and obviously in peoples’ homes. The second thing is we will have is live streaming of all the games.”
The first home game of the 2017 season takes place on Saturday, January 28. It will be an exciting match against the seven-time national XV’s champion, San Diego’s O.M.B.A.C. Rugby at Huns Field, Austin, Texas.
‘What is the future going forward for US Rugby on such uncertain ground?’
Last Word On Rugby can only conclude that The Huns still have a long road ahead of them. Some of the hurdles cannot be overcome on their own. The organization has the vision and ability to make their long term goals work. And full credit to them.
The road ahead will not be easy and setbacks are inevitable, but if the Huns stick to their plan they are certain to be successful.