Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
Aside from their obvious success on the field of play, the Green Bay Packers are one of the most unique sporting franchises in the entire world. Is it their twelve NFL Championships? The twenty-one Hall of Famers that played for the Packers? No, it’s the fact that they are 100% owned by their fans. The team has had three owners, all in its first four years, 1919-22. With the team struggling financially, the community got behind them and the club was transformed into a non-profit entity, the Green Bay Packers Corporation.
There have been four stock drives in the 89 year history of the club (1923, 1935, 1950, and 1997). Shares at the first stock drive went for $5 and rose to $200 during the last stock drive. Presently, 112,088 people (representing 4,750,936 shares) can lay claim to a franchise ownership interest. Shares of stock have been purchased by citizens from all 50 states, in addition to fans in Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Shares of stock include voting rights, but the redemption price is minimal, no dividends are ever paid, the stock cannot appreciate in value, and there are no season ticket privileges associated with stock ownership. No shareholder is allowed to own more than 200,000 shares, a safeguard to ensure that no one individual is able to assume control of the club. Shares of stock cannot be resold, except back to the team for a fraction of the original price. Limited transfer of shares (to heirs and relatives) is permissible.
The corporation is governed by a seven-member Executive Committee, elected from a board of directors. The committee directs corporate management, approves major capital expenditures, establishes broad policy and monitors management’s performance in conducting the business and affairs of the corporation.
So, what can USA Rugby learn from this? A lot. If they seriously want to establish a professional league here in the United States, then maybe it’s time they look at the model set forth by one of the most successful sporting franchises of all time. The word going around is that USA Rugby wants a city based league with the four initial teams each coming from somewhere within the four designated competitive regions. I like the idea, there’s nothing wrong with starting small and I think every region should have a team to call their own. The idea of transforming the NA4 into a professional competition is doomed, so they should cut bait. As the league grows, then more can be added, but there’s no need for them to bite off more than they can chew. I’m not saying that all four of the teams could (or should) be publicly funded. If the league is ever going to take hold, then there absolutely needs to be private/corporate ownership of most of the teams. But, that’s not to say that USA Rugby couldn’t go the Packers route and have fan ownership in one (possibly two) of the founding teams.
There are currently 75,000 or so registered players in USA Rugby. That doesn’t include the thousands that aren’t registered, but playing youth and social rugby. Then there are the hundreds of thousands of former rugby players. Then take into account the number of Americans overseas and rugby fans across the world that are interested in USA Rugby. There could be more than a million people potentially interested in the unique quality of owning shares in a professional rugby franchise. Not to mention the potential for voting rights. We’ve paid CIPP dues for years and years, but they don’t come with a vote.
Then there is the historical angle. Being a stakeholder in the first professional rugby team in America would be a pretty big deal. Well, at least it would be to me.
Given there were legitimate private investors that wanted to own franchises in a professional rugby league in the USA, which I’ve heard there is interest. How much would you be willing to spend for a share in one of the franchises? Would you buy just one share for the fun of it or buy multiple shares? I don’t think they’ll be able to ask for $200 per share like the Packers, but at $25, $50 or even $100 per share, I believe there would be plenty of interest.
Would the location of the team have an influence over your investment? I’d prefer to invest in a team in my region, but it wouldn’t stop me if the only choice was across the country. It just might limit the number of shares I would buy.
So, who out there wants to start the foundation? We can have a rugby team to literally call our own. There’s no telling what kind of publicity could be built up around a movement like this.