Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Q&A: Answers To Your Questions

Thanks to everyone who sent in some questions for our latest Q&A. As always the fans sounded in which great questions about PRO Rugby, the Eagles, The Rugby Channel, and more.

SJSUVC1: What is the attendance numbers thus far in PRO Rugby?

TIAR: According to our calculations, which are nearly all based on estimates, the league average is 1914.4 fans per match. It had been about 2000 until two weeks ago when it dipped under that number for the first time. Sacrament is leading the way with an average of 2466 fans although that is boosted by a big crowd week one. Denver is next at 2323 followed by San Diego at 2000, and Ohio at 1750. San Francisco is last at 1033. There is no question that attendance has gone down after the first week and while these aren't earth shattering numbers it does show that people are going to come out and watch rugby. Further, some of these matches were held on Mother's Day or Memorial Day Weekend, not the greatest times to hold matches. A bright spot for the attendance is that Denver still has four more home matches and Sacramento has three.

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Matt Hudson: Are there concerns about the viability of PRO Rugby at this point in the season (mixed attendance, loss of AOL broadcasting, few hundred fans tuning in on Youtube). Will the venture run out of money and fold or are the pockets deep enough?

TIAR: One of the things that I always have to remind myself is that PRO Rugby is treating year one very much as a test year. Take sponsorships for example. The league has been approached but unless the absolutely right deal came along right now they want to wait until the offseason when they have a full package to present to sponsors. Because it's a test year they have't put as much into marketing as they normally would and the AOL broadcast was always week to week. The explanation I was given (just relaying what I was told here) was that viewership was so high on AOL that the league decided rather than giving their product away they'd pull it in house and get the views directed toward their own site. In terms of running out of money it was budgeted for three years and they are committed to that. There are definitely concerns with declining attendance but when the league comes back next year expect to see more in terms of outreach.

SJSUVC1: Will PRO Rugby and The Rugby Channel work things out soon? Will we see games on there this season or is YouTube pretty much it? In your opinion, it's a long shot to see ESPN or FS1 sign on soon. Could there eventually be a second TV partner signed for next year or later and who would you think it would be?

TIAR: Since we're talking about PRO Rugby and attracting more viewers this is a good segue question. It's highly doubtful PRO and The Rugby Channel get together. Unless TRC is willing to either pay to show PRO Rugby matches or at least give them a cut of the subscription why would PRO Rugby give them their product for free? It doesn't make sense to simply give a channel that not that many people see the rights to your games without money. If you are going to give it away you may as well do it on ESPN3 where there are more viewers. It's possible they go to another network next year but I haven't heard anything. 

I should take the time here to say that I like the idea of The Rugby Channel. Some of suggested that I'm against it. That couldn't be further from the truth. I think from a technical perspective they've done a great job of putting it together on a short timeframe. The broadcasts have been excellent. Where they have fallen short in a big way in my opinion is content. Showing the PRO12 won't get that many people excited and airing previously free events like the Women's Sevens Series for money don't make much sense. We need more people watching the women's Eagles, not less. 

Juju: What are the chances the summer Eagles tests will be available to the public at large, and not to a premium website that no non-rugby person will watch?

There is almost zero chance that the Eagles tests will be available on anything but TRC. The channel was touted as being an over the top network that would provide things like the PRO12 and the Six Nations, both of which were sorely lacking good coverage in the United States. It would also have old Eagles matches, etc. From that standpoint it's a good concept. Throw in some original content (like Dallen Stanford's recap but more of that) and it would be something people would want. 

The decision to put the Eagles matches on the channel makes less sense. Can anyone name a reason why the Eagles matches would be put on the network other than in an attempt to force folks to subscribe? Seriously, we'll hand out a TIAR scarf to whoever can give a logical reason. It makes no sense to take your product away from ESPN3 where it was available on things like Apple TV and had more of a chance for someone to discover the sport in order to put it on a paid online channel in which many of your own supporters probably aren't willing to shell out the money (the first month is free but it's weird to advertise a service as "you can sign up and get your free month and then cancel!). Yes, it could drive people to the stadium but that's unlikely unless you live nearby. Instead, it's basically a way for U.S.A. Rugby, through RIM and The Rugby Channel, to get fans that can't attend the match in person to shell out money for the privilege of watching the Eagles. Putting the summer test matches behind a paywall shrinks rugby in America, not help it grow. 

Obviously I've just spent several paragraphs on this topic but to me it's one of the most frustrating elements of American rugby in the past few years. Here you have this great idea and potentially great idea being executed so poorly (not the technical side of it) and essentially being turned into a money grab. 

Brian Jackson: Much importance is given to College rugby in the USA and it's role in the development of the sport but are there any stats on player drop out rate after graduation? 

TIAR: Not that I'm aware of. However, I do know that there are statistics which say students that are involved in clubs do tend to graduate more than those that don't.

Unknown: Any insight as to why Nick Wallace retired from international rugby? (I saw that report on Goff Rugby Report)

Payton Sanders: I heard John Quill retired from international Rugby, any insight? 

TIAR: I'm not sure the specifics on either of those two players but my guess is that at least for Nick Wallace it became a situation where it was hard to balance life, work, and rugby. That happens more than you think for the domestic guys. There have been plenty of talented players that can't make it work due to other commitments.

Conor: Why hasn't there been an East Coast Eagles match in 3 years?

Great question and one that's pretty logical when you think about it (assuming you meant Northeast here). The past three years have seen the Eagles play in the Pacific Nations Cup. Because those teams are close to the West Coast it makes sense from a travel perspective. It also makes sense because there are large Fijian, Samoan, Tonga, and Japanese populations on the West Coast as well. Anyone who was at the Sacramento double-header last year would have told you half the crowd was there for Fiji. 

The other obstacle, and this is something PRO Rugby found, is that there aren't that many appropriate venues in the Northeast. They either need to be natural grass or have the right kind of turf. That leaves only a handful of stadiums that are in large centers and if they are too expensive or booked up it forces U.S.A. Rugby to look somewhere else. We wouldn't be shocked to see World Cup qualifying on the East Coast as players will likely have to come in from Europe and they'll want to shorten their travel. I feel for East Coast fans but matches are on the West Coast more out of convenience than anything.

Charley: Do you have any insight into what is going with the search for a new USARFU CEO?

TIAR: Unfortunately no. 


  1. I think the drop out rate after graduation question is referring to dropping out of rugby? There was some study published or mentioned by USAR that it's very high. Although that's for everyone I think. You'd hope stuff like PRO keeps people playing either because they are getting paid or aspire to get paid

    1. My own informal study from having coached college rugby and followed players that I coached and others that I coached against the amount of players that continue to play after college is minimal. Probably less than 10% (probably less than 5%). The U-19 to college drop off would be less but still a pretty significant number. Something USAR could do to strengthen rugby in this country is to address the drop off between levels.

    2. Per the WR/USAR Retain & Recruit study concluded in August of 2015, only 4.12% of college rugby athletes move on to club.

      51.86% of the student-athletes exposed to rugby in college, leave it while in college (before ever getting a chance to matriculate to club rugby).

    3. I think the current state of college rugby makes it very tough to overcome these numbers. Varying factors that add up to this nearly 50% attrition rate include financial burden (needing to work to pay for school or cant pay for dues/travel), time burden (some kids just arent ready to be committed to a competitive program 12 hours a week plus travel), injury (college rugby is tougher than HS), drop out rate, or their heart just isn't in rugby (want to experience other things in college). Until college rugby is a scholarship sport where kids depend on their athletic scholarship we will continue to see these types of numbers. Granted they vary school to school, its not an easy hurdle to overcome as a whole.

    4. The numbers that Grant cites are only the average annual transition from Club-to-College, not the 'did they ever matriculate?' numbers. In other words, those numbers show that a freshman didn't go to Club (because he became a sophomore) and thus lower the percentage.

    5. Adam, the ~50% attrition rate is pervasive across all levels(youth/HS, College, and Club). It's an overall indicator that many who try the sport decide it's not for them within the first year of playing. As registration is required for insurance, it thus presents that a high number of people leave.

  2. I don't think the attendance figures are anything to be embarrassed about.... That said I disagree with the price of admission- $30 for GA I'm Dan Diego... The league should be giving away tickets to the local school districts are charging a nominal fee for the family. Pro rugby is not a first rate league- look how long it took for MLS to charge that amount

  3. I think the attendance numbers are reasonable. However , I think these first few years should have been about getting seats in the stands... Tickets should have been given to local youth clubs and adult tickets for a nominal rate ; give them away to the school districts ... Tickets in San Diego are 30 for GA- families can go to a baseball game or an MLS game for less