Thursday, November 3, 2016

PRO Rugby Responds To Rugby Canada Release

On a normal week the news that PRO Rugby would not be expanding to Canada would be the biggest story of the week. However, with the Rugby Weekend on tap the news has gone a bit under the radar. However, it took another turn today. Yesterday PRO Rugby made the announcement that it wasn't going to Canada and Rugby Canada responded with a statement. Today, PRO Rugby owner Doug Schoninger took to Facebook to explain and answer some of the questions he's received recently. Topics Schoninger addressed include an exclusivity clause with Canada, payments to players and vendors, and the Pro12.  Below is his post.
Yesterday it was announced that we would not have PRO teams in Canada. I have received many inquiries and I thought it best now to answer some of those questions and also discuss some other issues: 
1. The main point of disagreement between PRO and Rugby Canada was over exclusivity. RC had agreed to give us an exclusive professional sanction and then, on Friday of last week, decided to reverse the agreement. I asked them if this was non-negotiable for them, as they knew it is for me, and they said it was. At this point, as there was no way forward, we made the announcement. I have not received a reason for their reversal. 
Take the jump to read more.

2. We have been talking to RC about an exclusive agreement since the summer of 2015 and, after an agreement for our 2016 season fell apart at the last minute, I was very gun shy of restarting the process again. When I was assured that all terms were acceptable to RC I started the process of vetting venues. On 9/19 in a meeting at our offices and after their meeting with Pro12, RC stated that they had only listened to Pro12 as a courtesy and they understood, because of the small number of potential markets in Canada, a foreign competition team in Canada did not make sense. 
3. There was never any conversation or discussion between us and RC regarding the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport guidelines, either this year or last. To insinuate that this was a cause of the agreement not being executed is both untrue and insulting to PRO. 
4. Though we experienced standard start-up operational issues, it is untrue to say that these problems were systematic. We are owed substantially more money than we owe to venues. Almost 200 rugby personnel were paid over $4 Million last year with 95% of that going to payroll on the team level to players, coaches, managers, etc. I have been told that this is more money than has been paid to rugby players in NA in aggregate ever. 
5. PRO Canada was to have initially two teams, one in the Toronto area and one in the Vancouver area, comprised 100% of Canadian players and coached by leading international coaches. Though there was a concern that the Canadian sides would be stronger than the more diluted American sides, we agreed to this structure to simplify operations. The benefits of Canada's National playing pool training/playing in just two professional teams for 5 months a year would have been overwhelming. 
6. We had secured a venue in the Vancouver area and were narrowing down our search in the Toronto area when I was informed of the exclusivity clause change. 
7. Some people question why we deserve an exclusive professional sanction from RC. A good analogue would be a renter of an apartment. Would the renter renovate the kitchen, the bath, etc. knowing he only had a 2-3 year lease? Maybe, but not with serious investment. Rugby in Canada needs very serious investment and it is only fair and reasonable to have the opportunity to get a return on our investment of time and money. I truly doubt that anyone will make the necessary investment without protections. 
8. Growing the game needs to be done in partnership. Players, coaches, unions, professional teams, etc. all benefit from the growth of the game. We are supportive of anything that grows the game and anyone that helps to grow the game. PRO cannot grow the game by itself but only in partnership with others. 
9. Pro12 is an interloper and it is not in the best interests of NA unions to welcome them at this time. PRO Rugby was set up to develop both the game and player/coach capabilities. Introducing a foreign competition only upsets this process and funnels needed sponsorship and media dollars to their home unions and not to NA unions. 
10. Pro12 does not have a legitimate business plan. There is no East Coast North American market that fits into their playing season. I understand their present concept is to have multiple home team venues (i.e. a NY/Houston and a Toronto/Vancouver joint teams) even though a multi-home team model is a completely unproven professional sports model and has never worked successfully in any professional sport. 
11. Our concern is not a successful Pro12 team in NA, but a failed one. It will be easy for Pro12 to pick up and leave NA leaving behind the legacy of their failure for us to pick up the pieces. The experience that the Italian Pro12 sides are having speaks to the issues Pro12 is experiencing (and NA is about 4 times further away) 
12. In 3-5 years, if Pro12 comes to Canada and spends all the necessary capital to activate the market, proves that professional rugby is viable, increases the rugby brand and infrastructure in Canada, PRO will be happy to have teams in Canada. It clearly will be easier for us to enter a more mature market than an unproven one. 
13. As has been misreported and misstated many times, PRO does have an exclusive sanction for professional 15-side men’s rugby in the USA. USA Rugby has the contractual obligation with PRO to enforce our exclusive sanction against any and all challenges. 
We are saddened that RC chose to change the agreement at the last moment. I had believed that our partnering with RC would have made our competition and Canada’s National team better in many ways. We look forward to watching the development of the game in Canada and look forward to having teams and employing Canadian players in our league sometime in the future. 


  1. Doug is doing what is right by staying out of Canada. He may still fail in the long run, but he is the one taking the HUGE risk and he needs to do everything he can in his power to succeed. If he fails, USA rugby will still be there. If, however, he succeeds USA rugby will be the biggest benefactor next to Doug. Good Luck Mr. Schoninger, sorry Canada did not play ball. Maybe next year?

  2. What does it mean for PRO Rugby to have exclusive sanction for professional men's 15s in the US? If my club were to find a way to generate paying spectators and advertisers, and to pass that revenue along to players and coaches in the form of a living wage, what right does USA Rugby have to interfere? Does CIPPing include a prohibition or limitation against paying players?

    1. Clubs can't generate enough revenue to go pro. They tried and failed.

    2. That's nice. Not really an answer to my question though.

  3. There's no stopping a club from becoming professional. Just setting up a rival pro league. Or at least a publicly stated pro league. Would be interesting to see what would happen if a league was established that had pro clubs in it but wasn't in fact a stated pro league.

  4. The exclusive sanctioning provision will be interesting in light of the rumblings coming out of Austin, Texas with the Huns professionalizing and looking to possibly set up a regional pro competition.

  5. PRO Rugby's "exclusive" in the US is likely not enforceable and USA Rugby would find it difficult to deny PRO12 sanctioning for matches in the US. It appears Canada has realized competition is good for the game. PRO Rugby will succeed if it provides a better product, not hiding behind the threat of legal action to enforce a monopoly. Perhaps Canada becomes a the top tier professional company welcoming US players and the US PRO Rugby becomes a minor league.

    1. I think you'll find it is enforceable. Google "NRFL Leicester Tigers" and see what happened without sanctioning.