Thursday, October 6, 2016

PRO Rugby CEO Schoninger Gives League Update

PRO Rugby has spent the last two months digesting its first season of competition. Naturally there is plenty to think about. In an update to fans CEO Doug Schoninger took the time on Facebook to talk about what worked on the field, streaming options, and plans to expand to at least eight teams next year. The letter is below.

First, I want to apologize for not communicating more with you, our fans, supporters, players, and employees. I have many valid excuses (too busy, planning next season, etc.) but really no good excuses. When we started this journey, there were a few personal mandates I made to myself and I have let some of them slip. Communication is one of these mandates and I promise you more communication (hopefully not too much) starting from today.

Whether it is the start of Comic Con in New York today (I am not a comic book fan but I am hugely impressed by their fan’s dedication and commitment), the Network broadcasting meeting I had yesterday (uninspiring, uncreative and backwards thinking), or all the news coming out about professional sports in the US I am not sure, but after a long, sometimes difficult two years I now remember why I started this journey.

Take the jump to read more.

As a start to better communication, I would like to sum up some of the lessons we learned from our first season, some of our conclusions and just some general comments that I think are important to share:

1. On the field, we had a great first year. I believe we vastly exceeded expectations on our field play and I am thankful for all the hard work that our players, coaches and managers put into the game. I have been told by many overseas rugby union heads, agents and players that they were very impressed with the level of physicality of our games. Clearly there is work to be done but everyone should be extremely proud.

2. Though many people thought we would only get hundreds of fans at each match – we got thousands. The most exciting fact is that the new rugby fans were some of our most enthusiastic and loyal fans. A major goal of next year is introducing PRO to non-rugby fans. Interestingly, the younger the fan, whether new or existing, the more excited they were about PRO and rugby in general.

3. We are planning on having 8 teams next year in two conferences – a West Coast conference and a Midwest/East Coast conference. We are presently finalizing all venues for next year.

4. Last season we experimented with different forms of TV direction, production and distribution. We learned that most importantly the fan desires to see the game, and the fan was not that sensitive to the level of production. Even with fluid TV distribution, some of our games were watched by over 200,000 viewers, which are on par or exceeds what a regular season English Premiership game gets. Our viewership was also far greater than foreign league matches shown in the US. It is clear that rugby fans and viewers want to see homegrown talent play at home.

5. The world of sports media is changing on a weekly basis. Every few months a new media platform is introduced (think Facebook Live, Twitter, OTT ESPN, etc.). This changing media environment is both a challenge and a huge opportunity for PRO. As the media landscape is reset, PRO is the position to benefit from its shift. The days of passively watching sports on our lounge chairs, drinking a Bud are numbered. Sports fans, and particularly our younger sports fans, want to watch us through all their devices wherever they are. Though a lot of our fans wish we were televised on major broadcast networks, we believe that the sun is setting on the traditional media platforms and it will be the new innovative platforms that will dominate sports in the near future. That being said, our local Regional Sports Networks platform was enormously successful and we look to expanding our local coverage in our second season.

6. Games need to be fun, exciting and entertaining. Our matches were some of the highest scoring games played in the rugby world last season. There are both good and bad reasons for high scoring games but the result was that those games were highly exciting. PRO has an advantage of playing through some of the best weather months in the US (forgetting of course those 100 degree games in Denver) that adds to the game day experience. Our season also has a great advantage in that its weather is aligned to Test window play thus giving our players Test window weather experience.

7. Sport should be an escape for the fan. I think some of the issues that other sports leagues are going through remind us that we should always respect our fans. Sport should be an escape from the politics of daily life and not an extension of a political agenda.

8. PRO’s new rugby fan is young, 50% female, and diverse. The young fan sees us for what we are: respectful, connected, accessible and inclusive; and what we are not: arrogant, distant, disrespectful and their dad’s sport.

Once again, thank you for your support and I hope to see you all for our season two kickoff in just over 6 months.
Doug Schoninger


  1. Loving #'s 7 & 3 the best. Anything in the rumor mill as to where the 3 new teams might be?

  2. Awesome update. Love the honesty and the excitement for next year.

  3. Deep in the comments, they also say they plan on a championship game.