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The US Rugby Players Association and Its Goals for the Future of the Game

The USRPA was launched with one thing in mind: to promote, advance, and protect the interests of national rugby players.

Adam White

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Scully (far left) is helping lead the charge for USRPA.

(*BrandForward is a proud partner of Front Office Sports.)

Blaine Scully didn’t start out as a rugby lifer, but he’s made it his life’s work to increase opportunities for the elite men and women who play the sport.

A three-sport athlete in high school, Scully didn’t find the sport of rugby until he enrolled in college at UCLA. Spending two years there before transferring to Cal, Scully would go on to rack up accolades that included being a four-time All-American, captain of the 2011 USA Rugby Collegiate All-Americans Touring Squad, and winning two national titles with Cal.

Now, the current captain of the USA Eagles Men’s Team is on a mission to ensure rugby continues to grow in the U.S. and with that growth, create meaningful opportunities for the country’s national team members. The vehicle: the first players union in American rugby — the U.S. Rugby Players Association (USRPA).

“There was a small group of us that had an interest in building a players association because many of us had been part of other professional environments where we saw the value of having someone at the table to represent and speak on behalf of the athletes,” said Scully. “I came to the realization that to move this idea forward, someone was going to have to own it. That someone just happened to be me.”

In a sport where schedules are traditionally hectic between national team and club competitions and tours, Scully — along fellow Eagle James Gillenwater — felt that an organization was needed to present a united front, give all parties involved the chance to have a collective conversation and advocate for the highest possible player experience for all national team athletes.

Chatting over Skype with Gillenwater to architect the organization, Scully would use nights after training to learn as much as he could about players unions, design what the structure should look like and try to build support for the association at the grassroots level amongst the female and male players.

“One of the things that makes our players association so unique is it’s inclusive of both men and women,” said Scully. “We thought that together, as a unit, this would be not only the best way to collectively have a conversation, but that moving forward in a joint capacity would enable us to have greater impact for all of our athletes across the sport.”

READ MORE: Meet the New Creative Team for the Alliance of American Football

It took three years of back and forth between Scully, Gillenwater, and players such as USA Women’s Eagles Sevens Olympic Captain Kelly Griffin, to truly get the USRPA off the ground.

“Giving players a voice and empowering them to have a say in their own player welfare builds the foundation for a strong and successful teams,” says Griffin. “Having a player association is also very important for the continued growth of rugby in the USA.”

Not only did Scully have to educate himself and the others he hoped a players association would support, he also had to educate USA Rugby’s leadership team — the sport’s governing body — on why the establishment of a players association would benefit the organization.

“It’s to the governing body’s benefit to have athletes at the table, having conversations in a meaningful way and really contribute, because, frankly, they’re incredibly valuable resources,” said Scully. “I think once you realize the kind of collaboration that is possible and what can actually come from it, mutual growth can happen and we all become advocates of the same unified vision. When you look around the world, the healthiest rugby playing countries and unions are supported by an engaged playing base – in the form of a vibrant Association.

A far more entrenched sport abroad, Scully argued to the governing body that to enable an emerging sport like rugby to grow some real footing inside the U.S., there had to be some sort of consensus when it came to working together.

The development and now operation of the USRPA received a real boost from Michael Young, a Chicago labor attorney with a passion for rugby. Having found the sport while studying in Ireland during college, Young went on to found a rugby club for Chicago-based lawyers.  Young was connected to Scully through a mutual friend to discuss the developing players union, and the opportunity of marrying his profession and passion together.

READ MORE: Pac-12 Network Grows Viewership Thanks to Cross-Platform Integration

“What struck me as most incredible about USRPA was the truly organic drive behind all of this. I was inspired by our players’ passion to band together on their own and not just simply join an already established labor union for financial support or help organizing,” said Young, now the USRPA executive director. “From the outset, they have chosen to take complete ownership of USRPA and build it from the ground up, to be 100 percent run by the players for the players.”

The USRPA has also found critical partners in athlete brand strategy consultancy, BrandForward, and the NFLPA, which has helped the USRPA through its business unit REP Worldwide to build out the group licensing approach and set the table for the association’s deal with Amazon — something that Scully points to as a great step forward for not only the association, but the sport of rugby as a whole.

“Merch by Amazon, which is the platform we are using, offered us a low barrier of entry and allowed us to get set up right away and start turning things around quickly,” said Scully. “Going from having no player merchandise offering to having the opportunity for fans to be able to jump on Amazon and Prime something to their house has been really cool for us.”

BrandForward is working with the USRPA on crafting its player-centric brand strategy and a professional development program for their members.

“We feel confident in the steps we’re taking to make a positive impact and grow the quality of the experience for our athletes. Our main objective is to leave the jersey in a better place.” – Blaine Scully

A self-described bootstrapped startup, the USRPA have now given itself a chance to “co-write” the future of rugby in the states, something that just three years ago wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of everyone involved.

And what exactly does that future look like? A modernized game and governance structure.

“We’ve already started initial conversations around a collective bargaining agreement with USA Rugby that will provide a standard agreement across the board for both our men and women,” said Scully. “The goal is to create a professionalized and proactive environment that is different than the environment that has existed for the past 20 years.”

(*BrandForward is a proud partner of Front Office Sports.)

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

Innovation

The Story Behind the Giants’ New $10 Million Scoreboard

Ahead of this year’s MLB season, the Giants are set to unveil a new scoreboard that at over 150 ft by 70ft, will be the third largest in the league.

Front Office Sports

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Image via the San Francisco Giants

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

With Spring Training underway, baseball is inching its way closer to the start of another season.

Although we don’t know if the Giants have the inside track to signing Bryce Harper, we were able to sit down with Senior Vice President & CIO Bill Schlough to take a look at their brand new scoreboard and why the team invested $10 million into the product.

$10 million is a lot to spend on a scoreboard. I’m assuming much of the cost will be recouped through increased advertising opportunities. Outside of fan experience, was that one of the other driving factors when it came to making this investment? 

“If you think $10 million is a lot to spend on a scoreboard, you should see how much it will cost to deliver 4K content to that board!  But I have to be honest, for the Giants, “increased advertising opportunities” was NEVER part of the discussion. This is all about the fan experience, 100%. Our board was the second oldest and fifth smallest in MLB, and after 12 seasons it was definitely due for a refresh.  Our fans deserve a first-class experience at Oracle Park, and we’re going to give it to them. And with our new 4K board, it’s not just baseball games that will be enhanced.”

“We’re confident that all events at Oracle Park will benefit from this new screen—from private screenings, to corporate event branding, to convention gatherings, to public event enhancements and beyond. So if there are increased revenue opportunities from our new Diamond Vision, I’d say they will come from increased attendance and incremental events more than advertising. We didn’t invest $10 million for a glorified billboard, this is all about enhancing the experience for our fans.”

How much did the impact of landing outside events play a role in going forward with this decision? Does having this open up new opportunities? 

“Events that are complementary to our baseball schedule – both in-season when the Giants are on the road and during the off-season – are a huge source of pride for our organization, not to mention a fantastic way to develop new partnerships and opportunities. Giants Enterprises, the entrepreneurial arm of the San Francisco Giants, hosts more than 250 events per year, including concerts, private corporate events, international sporting events like Rugby World Cup Sevens, unique activations such as Topgolf Crush and more.”

“The Giants Enterprises team does a phenomenal job filling our calendar with events on a year-round basis and by continuing to stay ahead of the curve in terms of technology and venue upgrades, we will undoubtedly be able to attract new business. Upgrading our scoreboard presents a multitude of opportunities for clients using our facility so it was absolutely a big consideration when moving forward with this project. We are currently exploring new innovative ideas that we can activate on for returning and annual events that will help take their experience here at Oracle Park to the next level. We look forward to pushing the boundaries and continuing to innovate in strategic ways to fully maximize the capabilities of our new scoreboard.”

When looking at comparable screens and different sporting venues, which ones did you look to for inspiration? What did you want to differently?

“We definitely did our homework and there are plenty of other venues that are worthy of emulation.  The Cowboys really started the “bigger is better” trend a decade ago with their record-setting massive DiamondVision display at AT&T Stadium. Vivek Ranadivé and the Sacramento Kings were also trendsetters, launching the first 4K video board in sports back in 2016.  In baseball, the Indians, Mariners and Angels are now the three biggest.”

“In our travels, we also visited the Rockies, Ravens and our longtime friend in Lincoln, the recently retired Godfather of HuskerVision, Shot Kleen at the University of Nebraska.  In the end, we figured that given that we won’t be doing this again anytime soon, we shouldn’t make any compromises.  So we went big (153’ x 71’, 3rd largest in MLB), high quality (1st 4K capable board in MLB) and chose to stick with DiamondVision from Mitsubishi Electric—who we consider to be the best video board manufacturer in the business.”

If you could play any video game on the screen, which would it be and why? 

“From a purely nostalgic standpoint, I would want to play Goldeneye 007 on N64. That said, the graphics and that game wouldn’t do our new scoreboard justice. A fun, competitive multi-player game would definitely be a joy to watch so perhaps a game like Fortnite. Above all else, playing MLB The Show 2019 and watching Buster Posey hit a homerun to centerfield while watching it on the centerfield scoreboard would be a total trip.”

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

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Innovation

Mesh Seats Help Showcase Innovation at New Las Vegas Ballpark

The Las Vegas Ballpark is set to open this year with brand new mesh seats that promise to keep fans cool and comfortable in the Las Vegas sun.

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Photo via Las Vegas Ballpark

When Las Vegas Ballpark opens on April 9, more than three decades of stadium advancements will be on display.

The old stadium, Cashman Field, opened in 1983 and was already out of date by 1993, said Don Logan, president and COO of the Las Vegas Aviators, the recently rebranded moniker of the AAA team. The team also signed a development agreement this fall with the Oakland Athletics, after its agreement with the New York Mets expired.

Despite stadiums quickly surpassing Cashman, it took another 25 years to break ground on a new venue.

“Cashman, I hate to bash it, but it just outgrew its usefulness,” Logan said. “The world changed and it didn’t.”

Enter the Howard Hughes Corporation, a major land developer in Las Vegas — specifically behind the Summerlin neighborhood. The company purchased the Las Vegas 51s in 2013. With more than 400 acres at its disposal for Downtown Summerlin — about half of which is developed — a space was reserved for the Las Vegas Ballpark, an approximately $150 million project right next door to the corporate headquarters and practice facility of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.

READ MORE: Minor League Baseball Showcasing Deeper Partnership Connections With Hot Dogs

The two sports facilities are at the center of a master-planned community meant to provide an idealistic “live, work, play” environment in Las Vegas. More than 4,000 urban residential units can be built around the stadium in the near future.

“Even in 2011, I’m not sure we’d see iconic sports facilities in downtown Summerlin,” said Tom Warden, Howard Hughes Corporation senior vice president of community and government relations. “It’s a lot of opportunities for the team and also for Summerlin; we view this as an amenity for the Summerlin community.”

The new stadium has greatly improved amenities in all aspects, largely focused on player development and fan amenities, with a capacity for 10,000.

The centerpiece might be the video board, which Logan said is in the top 25-largest in all of organized baseball with 3,930 square feet of digital space. On off nights, movies might be played on screen for community residents.

A big consideration behind much of the Las Vegas Ballpark design was the high heat of Southern Nevada summers. The seats in the stadium are mesh, which greatly reduces the heat on spectator backsides. Logan said when a summer day reaches 110 degrees, plastic and metal seats can reach near 200 degrees. The mesh seats maintain temperatures below 100 degrees.

Likewise, there are giant fans from the company Big Ass Fans circulating air throughout the concourse. Fans can navigate the stadium 360 degrees with various destinations throughout to keep fans occupied and in the stadium, Logan said.

In the outfield, a swimming pool will look out at the field. A kids splash pad is also found in the stadium.

“This is all a tribute to the Hughes Corporation being willing to spend money where it matters and improve the experience,” Logan said. “We want to make people more comfortable and want to come back more often.”

The suite level will have two end caps with walkout party decks with capacity for 350 people.

Logan also said the food and beverage program will be much more aligned to modern minor league baseball than Cashman was and more indicative of the Summerlin community. They’ve even built in a show kitchen to bring in celebrity chefs to cook for fans.

“What other Triple-A team has the ability to do that?” Warden asked.

For players, they too get a respite from the baseball season heat. Cashman Field had no indoor batting cages, weight training or rehabilitation center. The facilities were regularly regarded among the bottom of organized baseball.

READ MORE: The Minor League Baseball of the Future

Now, there’s three indoor batting cages under the right-field stands, as well as greatly improved player facilities for better development.

The organization is already in talks with college conferences to host tournaments, and it plans on hosting more MLB exhibitions than the one or two a season at Cashman. The Aviators’ former stadium is still home to the Las Vegas Lights, the city’s United Soccer League team.

Las Vegas Ballpark is one of two Minor League Baseball stadiums opening next season, along with Advanced Class-A Fayetteville Woodpeckers.

“We’ll be the belle of the ball,” Logan said. “The good thing is we had 35 years to learn from and improve on, and we’re benefiting from all of it.”

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Innovation

Gratitude Helps Chelsea FC Unlock Winning Engagement Strategy

Over the holiday season, Chelsea FC launched #CFCFansgiving, a social campaign designed to honor its most loyal American fans.

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Photo via Chelsea FC

The holiday season has come and gone; so have the social posts from brands honoring the several weeks of heightened spirits.

Amidst the traditional holiday posts from different brands, however, was a full-fledged social campaign from an English club that started by celebrating a very non-English holiday. In November, Chelsea FC launched a multi-week campaign to celebrate Thanksgiving — a holiday that, at a glance, wouldn’t be a brand fit for the London-based club — and the rest of the holiday season. 

The soccer world is still buzzing about it weeks later. The campaign, branded #CFCFansgiving, was designed for Chelsea’s American fan base and executed on @ChelseaFCinUSA, the club’s new U.S.-specific handle that launched earlier this year.

During the week of Thanksgiving, Chelsea showed appreciation to its U.S. family by deploying over 200 random acts of kindness to fans across the States. Recipients of these surprise-and-delight moments were chosen either through nominations by fellow U.S. fans or based on their use of The 5th Stand — Chelsea’s mobile app and the chelseafc.com website.

READ MORE: Super Soccer Stars Grows Its Presence in the Health and Wellness Space

Surprises coming out of the campaign included a father and son duo from Los Angeles receiving a trip to London to watch Chelsea play live; recognition of two youth soccer leaders from the D.C. area; and a donation to fight ALS in honor of a fan suffering from the disease.

Many more fans were sent #CFCFansgiving gift boxes that included autographed memorabilia, an authentic ‘18-19 home jersey, or a “your next drink on us” package that included two pint glasses and gift cards.

While the campaign was primarily executed during Thanksgiving, surprises from #CFCFansgiving lasted well into December when the club visited New York City for NBC’s Premier League Mornings Live event.

To wrap up the campaign, Chelsea surprised three members of New York Blues, a Chelsea supporters club, with a VIP experience at Barclays Center ahead of a Brooklyn Nets match. The club also treated them to dinner with former club player Eidur Gudjohnsen, and surprised them with a personalized message and autographed jersey from current star Eden Hazard.

“#CFCFansgiving was an incredible event, from the packages being sent out across the country, to the fan experiences with Eidur Gudjohnsen in New York. For American fans, Fansgiving not only made us feel part of the club, it made us feel valued as a fan base,” said New York winner Anshuman Bhatia.

Now looking ahead for new campaign ideas to execute in 2019, the club is set to ramp up its efforts in North America — and the strategy to engage with their loyal fans there is a smart one.

Many followers of the @ChelseaFCinUSA account have been fans of the club for years, supporting the team from overseas without there being any strong American ties.  The benefit of the new Twitter account is that it provides a home for these fans and content that is more tailored to their interests and culture than the main @ChelseaFC handle.

Some have questioned the need for U.S.-specific accounts for Premier League teams, given that the main club accounts are managed in English.

#CFCFansgiving is a prime example of the value that an account like @ChelseaFCinUSA can have.

READ MORE: Sacramento Republic FC Makes a Child’s Dream Come True

The content is tailored to the American audience whose holidays and interests often differ from those of Chelsea’s UK-based fans, making an activation like this successful in a way it wouldn’t be on the main handle. The fan community in the U.S. is also different in that they wake up early to watch matches being played thousands of miles away. The content generated by these accounts can play into those norms and bring together this community in a way that the main club account cannot.

Bhatia, like many others, hopes this is just the start of the club’s American fan interactions.

“It was a great experience, and I hope it’s the start of a growing connection between the club and their worldwide fan base,” said Bhatia.

#CFCFansgiving was a way for the club to honor the fans who loyally wake up to watch their club — no matter the time — and celebrate, for the first time, what it means to be a Chelsea fan in the United States.

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