Rugby America

Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective

Grand Prix Extends Agreement with USA Rugby Through 2018

LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Grand Prix Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based sports and entertainment company, and USA Rugby, a member of the United States Olympic Committee, announced today the extension of their U.S. Exclusive Sanction and License Agreement for a 2nd six year term through 2018.

“USA Rugby is pleased to see Grand Prix’s progress and is equally excited to continue this exclusive partnership with Bill and his Grand Prix team. Grand Prix has exciting plans; the next six years will be equally exciting times for American Rugby.”

This ground breaking partnership between a national governing body and private enterprise exclusively grants Grand Prix the rights to own and operate USA Rugby sanctioned Professional Rugby Sevens, including the equally exclusive worldwide broadcast distribution rights across all media. The exclusive and extensive sanction rights cover both indoor and outdoor professional rugby sevens leagues and/or tournaments.

USA Rugby is a member of the United States Olympic Committee, governing the new Olympic sport of Rugby Sevens, as well as the U.S. member of the Rugby World Cup’s International Rugby Board.

“To say the least, much as happened since we joined USA Rugby in this crusade to bring the World’s Contact Sport to the World’s Largest Market” said William Tatham, Founder and Chairman of Grand Prix Entertainment. “When USAR initially awarded Grand Prix these unparalleled exclusive, extensive and long term rights in 2005, we decided to honor USA Rugby’s trust and instead of staging “on the field” events prematurely, we wisely committed to a multi year – multi million dollar “off the field” investment focusing on the three critical pre launch start-up phases of planning, protecting and projecting. We’ve been blessed by exclusive rights that are invaluable, a sport that has gone Olympic, and USA Rugby partners that are priceless.”

Newly appointed Grand Prix Chairman Alan Rothenberg said, “The exclusive long term rights granted to Grand Prix Rugby, including global distribution rights, coupled with the mutually beneficial partnership with USA Rugby, provide Grand Prix Rugby with a unique opportunity to develop and grow the sport to its fullest potential.”

USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville concurred, saying “USA Rugby is pleased to see Grand Prix’s progress and is equally excited to continue this exclusive partnership with Bill and his Grand Prix team. Grand Prix has exciting plans; the next six years will be equally exciting times for American Rugby.”

GPE broadcast representative and former President of CBS Sports Neal Pilson echoed the unique opportunity these exclusive and global media rights represent stating, “These live telecast rights to Grand Prix’s exciting rugby sevens tournaments have great value here in the US and abroad. We fully expect to finalize a carriage agreement with a U.S. network partner very soon.”

“On a global basis, these exclusive multi year rights make my job much easier as the ability to deliver consistent major league sports content over a period of years vs. a single season is what international carriers strive to acquire,” said former President of MGM Worldwide Television Gary Marenzi, who now oversees Grand Prix’s international distribution rights.

Tatham and Rothenberg believe that there is overwhelming evidence that the time is right for the launch of major league professional Rugby Sevens in the United States.

From an Olympic perspective, Rugby Sevens was approved by the International Olympic Committee as an Olympic sport and will be included in the upcoming 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

Taking a global view, the international HSBC Sevens World Series and IRB Sevens World Cup continue to break attendance and broadcast records (;; and the 2011 Rugby World Cup was once again the third most watched sporting event in the world (

In the United States, Rugby Seven’s popularity has seen significant domestic growth as evidenced by NBC’s live broadcast of the February 2012 HSBC Las Vegas tour stop, the USA Rugby hosted USA Sevens, which saw a record paid attendance of over 64,000 in Las Vegas and impressive TV ratings for its national NBC telecast (

In anticipation of the six year extension of this historic partnership with USAR, recent moves by Grand Prix in preparation for a 2012 launch include expanding the Grand Prix Entertainment executive board to include some of most powerful names in sports, entertainment and gaming including former President of CBS Sports Neil Pilson; Olympic attorney Kelly Crabb of the international law firm of Sheppard & Mullin, Rich Rose, former President of Caesars Palace World Sports and William Tatham, Sr., professional sports entrepreneur who owned franchises in the World Football League, the United States Football League, and the National Basketball Association.

Most recently, Tatham and Rothenberg announced the appointments of Gary Marenzi, former head of MGM International Television to head up Grand Prix’s recently formed Grand Prix Studios production unit in Los Angeles and London; and award winning and Los Angeles based Premier Partnerships as GPE’s exclusive sponsor and naming rights agency led by long time Rothenberg partner, Randy Bernstein.

Grand Prix continues to finalize a broad range of pre launch objectives, including the selection of both domestic and international network broadcast partners; live tournament and reality show production teams; final decisions re championship dates and venues; major market franchise offering documents; and a wide array of key sponsor, branding, naming and licensing arrangements.

Tatham concluded stating, “Rugby is not only the “Father of American Football,” but more important is the “World’s Contact Sport.” When the Olympic committee caught Grand Prix’s vision and approved Rugby Sevens for the 2016 Rio Summer Games, we knew the time was right for us to accelerate our launch plans. Grand Prix firmly believes Rugby Sevens has what it takes to be the hottest new professional “Sport of the 21st Century.”

About Grand Prix Entertainment

Grand Prix Entertainment is a diversified multi-media production and distribution company that owns and manages sports, entertainment and gaming properties. In addition to the above, key members of the Grand Prix executive team include general counsel Scott Earnshaw, Bruce Skinner, Bob Finkel, Tom George, Carl McMahan, Jeff Zimmerman, Gino Grajeda and Jamison Davis, Managing Partner of the branding consultancy Davis & Partners Worldwide. For more information about Grand Prix Entertainment, please

About USA Rugby

Founded in 1975, USA Rugby is an official member of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and the International Rugby Board (IRB). The organization has approximately 98,000 members and is responsible for the development of the boys, girls, high school, collegiate and club rugby programs, and ultimately all of the national teams representing the U.S. in international competitions. USA Rugby’s national headquarters is located in Boulder, Colo., and is run by full-time staff under the direction of current CEO and President of Rugby Operations Nigel Melville. For more information, please visit


17 comments on “Grand Prix Extends Agreement with USA Rugby Through 2018

  1. yankee_rob
    March 12, 2012

    Something must be happening if they can afford to have these big wigs on their payroll.

    RurgbyAmerica when is a launch going to happen? Also what is it going to look like?

  2. MattD
    March 12, 2012

    That was my question. Any idea on a launch date?

  3. BC32
    March 12, 2012

    GPR has a good plan, and are trying to move forward since at least 2004. They started out as American RFL, changed the name to Barbarian Sports, and now are Grand Prix Rugby (which I love that name!). They also registered the National Collegiate Rugby Association (NCRA) in 2008. It has been relatively the same group of people, however they have lured a few big names in the past couple years. I believe they are still working on investors, which seem to be materializing since Olympic rugby and USA Sevens success. They have a plan that has been revised and tweaked over many years, the energy, the management capability, obviously the patience, the exclusive rights to pro sevens in the USA (very important) to pull pro-sevens off, but I am not sure they have all the capital required just yet to get it started.

    I am pulling for them, it would be great to see pro-sevens take off. However, I hope they do it soon because USAR sold them exclusive rights…so no other group can start or broadcast a pro-sevens league in the USA…at least one sanctioned by USAR. So pro sevens fate is in their hands, unless they sell the rights to someone else….

  4. RugbyAmerica
    March 13, 2012

    No concrete date for a launch. I was told to expect another announcement in the next month or so. If they’re planning a 2012 launch, I would imagine that a announcement would have to come very, very soon. At one time they had an agreement with the IRB that they wouldn’t run any events during the World Series season, but I’m not sure if that has changed.

    If that agreement is still in place, their events would be locked into the June-October window. Which doesn’t leave much time left in 2012 to get something rolling.

    As one of the above posters already said, I believe everything comes down to financing. The GPR plan has always been solid and they’ve tweaked it over the years as 7’s really started to blossom. Getting the money in place to make it all happen has been the big hurdle, which is expected in any endeavour of this magnitude. The way things are moving right now (more official releases, closer attention to detail, less leaks of info) makes me believe that they at least have some of the financing in place.

    Hopefully it won’t be much longer. This might easily be the most planned out competition in the history of the game. For everyone’s sake, I pray that they are rewarded for their due diligence.

  5. MattD
    March 13, 2012

    Ted – Is there any relationship or agreement between USA Sevens and Grand Prix Rugby. I mean I know they are separate companies, but I always thought USAS was supposed to be an eventual expanding business model and not just a two trick pony. Meaning Las Vegas and the CRC. Since GPR has rights to ProRugby7’s does that mean USASevens cannot grow any further outside National competitions and the college game?

    Do you have any insight that you can share on USA Sevens game plan? Do they have rights to grow the game at the college level? Men’s club? Or will they stick primarily with the CRC and Las Vegas tournaments and that’s it. Doesnt seem like much room for growth there. Curious if Tantham presented the GPR to the owner of USASevens.

    Thanks for keeping us informed on this since the largest Rugby News site in the country (RugbyMag) chooses to ignore it… seeing as their boss is USA Sevens I can probably guess the answer to my first question, but any extra info would be appreciated.

  6. BC32
    March 13, 2012

    MattD: I am not certain of the current relationship between the two organisations, however Tatham’s rights from USAR does constrain USA Sevens’ growth ability. Mostly, it limits the amount of money that can be paid to sevens teams and players for participation in professional rugby sevens tournaments sanctioned by USAR. There is a cap, I think of $10,000 total, that can be paid outside of GPR events. If USA Sevens wanted to offer substantial prize money to sevens teams or salaries to sevens players, they would have to do so without official sanctioning of USAR, and indirectly the IRB. That means using non-registered players, referees, etc etc. The IRB Sevens Series and USA national team are both exempt from GPR’s rights.

  7. Alex R.
    March 14, 2012

    I also think USA Sevens and GPR are more like competitors, but there should be plenty of room for both of them to grow. College Football is not viewed as a competitor to the NFL, they complement each other.
    Regarding the USA Sevens business model, I don’t think they are limited. While the Las Vegas event may be limited at some point, there’s so much potential on the college side. As popularity of CRC gorws, USA Sevens can run a series of conference-based qualifying tournaments, like Big10 Sevens in Columbus or Atlantic Coast Sevens in DC for example. These tournaments will culminate in the CRC, which can move to a bigger stadium if necessary.
    USA Sevens can also jump into the 15s college game and promote bowl-style matches like BYU-Cal or Penn State vs. Ohio State.

  8. RugbyAmerica
    March 14, 2012

    Matt, great questions. You are correct in that you kind of answered one of your own questions. There is a reason RugbyMag refuses to report on GPR. They are seen as direct competition to the USA Sevens, which I don’t really get. Well… other than the fact the GPR plans on using Las Vegas as one of their locations. Again though, the tournaments would take place months apart and shouldn’t be a big issue. However… it obviously is to them.

    When I wrote my first article about GPR, I actually offered it to RugbyMag (no charge). I figured that more people should see it than the 50 people that frequented my blog at the time. The editor at that time, I forget his name, turned it down and said they wouldn’t be covering the subject at all. He really thumbed his nose at the idea and wasn’t that pleasant about it.

    That all said, the GPR agreement is lock tight in regards to limiting any other ventures in America. So, everyone needs to get in their corner, because if they don’t get off the ground we’ll be waiting until 2018 or longer before anyone else gets a crack. In his earlier years Tatham was involved with the USFL and went through all of the nastiness with the NFL putting them out of business. I know he has set out to avoid any such issues with rugby 7’s and did so through the licensing agreement.

    As for USA 7’s… right before they pulled the plug on their Club Championship Series event, someone from their group told me that they were not going to pursue that avenue any further and were focusing their efforts on making the Las Vegas 7’s and CRC 7’s as big as possible. They’re definitely on their way on both fronts.

    As Alex said above, I think the collegiate 7’s scene is somewhere that USA 7’s can make great strides down the road. At one point the GPR agreement had a college component, but that has since expired. USA 7’s already has deals in place with both the ACC 7’s and the SEC 7’s tournaments with the winner from both tourneys going to the CRC. I can only see that growing in the future and expanding to more events. At some point in time, when the product and competition improves, I could see the entire CRC field being decided by USA 7’s backed conference tournaments with a couple play-in bids (like the CRC Invitational in Vegas). The bigger and more developed (i.e. brand friendly) tournaments could easily be televised and promoted along the same lines as the CRC.

  9. MattD
    March 14, 2012

    So if USAS can expand with College Sevens, I’m now seeing them in a conflict with USA rugby. Those conference championships were built to supply the National Championship that USA rugby runs, not the CRC. However like you mentioned the CRC now has a deal with ACC and SEC, and they invited Wisconsin (Big Ten champ) this year. but in my opinion, there cant be two competing events every year. I think it stretches everyone’s time and budgets too thin. And if I’m going to choose between paying to play in a National Championship in an empty stadium on USTREAM or getting my flight paid for to go play infront of 18,000 people on NBC… guess which one I’m choosing.

    Maybe USA Sevens should be viewed like the BCS in football. They should have nothing to do with the regular season. They just host run and the championship tournament. I don’t see how they could run the conference tournaments. That seems like they’re stepping on toes. Unless USA Rugby sold those rights too, but seeing as how Sevens is the only code of the game that makes any money right now I cant imagine them selling it off.

  10. Pat
    March 17, 2012

    The ACC, Big 10 and SEC 7s tournaments were started before USAR ever had any collegiate 7s events in place or even in the pipeline. The USAR competition piggybacked off what the organizers of these tournaments had independently started.

    As for Grand Prix Rugby, I honestly don’t think that USAR actually can sell the ‘exclusive rights’ to a pro 7s league in the US. There are all sorts of antitrust issues at stake and I’m pretty sure if I wanted to start up my own pro 7s circuit this agreement between USAR and Tatham couldn’t stop me.

    I’m also surprised that Rugby America is so enamored with Tatham and his ideas, which not so long ago included changing the 7-a-side game to being played indoors in arena football league venues with 5 or 6 players per team. USAR sold the ‘rights’ to pro 7s to Tatham at a time when they were absolutely desperate for money and as a result entered into a terrible contract that essentially gives Tatham the rights in perpetuity. It is a bad deal for USAR and for rugby in this country and USAR has been hoping to get out from under it.

  11. MattD
    March 19, 2012


    If that is the case then WHY ON EARTH would USAR let the contract continue through 2018? That means to me there is no other group thats even trying to start a Pro 7’s competition. And how in the hell can you sell someone rights to something if somebody else could go ahead and do it anyway? There has to be something in the contract that would make this worth signing.

    And the BigTen did not have a 7’s comp before USAR National championship came into play. They had a 15’s tournament, but no 7’s comp. 2011 was their first year for 7’s. but yes, the ACC and SEC came before it. The rest came afterwards. Very sloppily I might add, but none-the-less.

  12. RugbyAmerica
    March 19, 2012

    Pat is correct. The rights that USAR have sold away are exclusive only in that it is an exclusive sanctioning agreement. Truthfully, anyone could start a professional competition in the USA… including me and Pat. It just wouldn’t be sanctioned by USAR and by proxy the IRB and USOC which would, in turn, make it very difficult to find investors, sponsorship, players, referees, etc. Not impossible, but difficult.

    As for the deal. I am also in agreement with Pat. USAR sold very low on the rights at a desperate time and gave away too much. They didn’t have the foresight to see that the sport had a great shot at getting into the Olympics. The rights are worth a great deal more now.

    That all said, I don’t really care who they sold rights to. It is absolutely certain that USAR was never going to develope any sort of professional competition, so why not let someone else take a crack at it? Did they screw up? Absolutely, but I have given up on USAR. They have to sleep in the bed they made.

    As for my “enamoration” with GPR. Yes, I have given them plenty of space at a time when no one else would. I like underdogs and GPR is a huge underdog. No one gives them a chance. I thought it would be fun to follow their progress for better or worse. If it fails, so be it. If it succeeds, then great.

    And for the record… I still like the idea of indoor rugby. Abomination or not. The only true form of rugby is 15’s, so when we’re talking about abbreviated versions of the game I think there is an opportunity to show some creativity and flexibility. Even Olympic 7’s still has some big changes that I’d like to see made.

  13. MattD
    March 20, 2012

    If Pro 7’s cant find its footing here in the US, because of the tournament format, or it doesn’t really give a city a chance to connect with its players since they might only have 1 home game a season… or for whatever the reason, I could see implementing some things to help it. I’m NOT a fan of indoor 5on5 rugby though.

    But what I’d like to see is maybe the lengthening of the halves back up to 40 minute halves and instead of the players dropping dead due to extreme exhaustion, you could run different lines like in hockey. So maybe pulling your guys after every score or every 5 to 10 minutes. This could give you more of a Cleveland vs Pittsburgh or New York vs Boston type of feel, where fans could really get behind a team as a city.

    I personally love the tournament format, but I don’t know if its realistic for fans to sit in a stadium for a whole day, every week. Anyway, I know it would take away from the rugby players don’t take breaks phony legend, but nobody thinks hockey players are wussies.

    … just a random thought

  14. BC32
    March 21, 2012

    The tournament format could change to allow more “home” games. By only have 6 teams per tournament, playing 2 pools of round robin for seeding into a bracket, then the bracket play could lead to claiming points – top 4 reach semis, bottom 2 play for 5th. Each team would only play 2 pool and 1-2 bracket matches, or a total of 3-4 games in a single day. This is no different than a team traveling in other sports to play 42-56 total minutes. Plus, the spectators only have to be in the stadium for about 6 hours, or can choose just to arrive in time for the bracket play (about 3 hours) Run 4 divisions of 6 city based teams, Each city gets to host 3 tournaments, so the regular season lasts 18 weeks (or longer if bye weeks). One tourney at each city is strictly intra-divisional and the other 2 are inter-divisional. You would have 24 total teams across the country, with the top 16 in the points ladder advance to the championship tournament, seeded accordingly.

    Hypothetical divisions:
    Pacific: Seattle, San Fran, LA, San Diego, OC, Vancouver
    Mountain: Salt Lake, Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, Calgary
    Midwest: Chicago, Columbus, Minneapolis, New Orleans, KC, Toronto
    Atlantic: New York, Boston, Atlanta, Philly, DC, Montreal

    For example, Seattle would host 1 tourney with 6 divisional teams, 1 tourney with 3 of those teams (Seattle, LA, San Diego) and 3 teams from the 3 other divisions (Salt Lake, Chicago, New York), and 1 tourney with 3 other divisional teams (Seattle, San Fran, Vancouver) and 3 teams from 3 other divisions (Atlanta, Calgary, Minneapolis). Each city based team would do the same. You could schedule in key inter-divisional rivalries (NY v LA, Canadian cities, etc)

    There would be some cross-over with the IRB Series, but you could either build in bye weeks during those times or just have replacement players for those weeks. I am certain for Pro7s to take off, you would need many international 7s players to be on each team. The DJ Forbes and Cecil Africa types could choose to play only 7s full time in the USA. But starting the 7s circuit in early May, leaves the championship event sometime in late August- after the NBA championship and before football season begins…giving Americans something to watch in the summer and only conflicting with the London/Scotland legs of the IRB. The players will have a couple months off before joining the IRB series in October.

  15. Adam Henderson
    March 27, 2012

    Are they looking for investors that want to buy a team or buy-in to a team. I am very interested and would love to get in on the bottom floor.

  16. MattD
    March 27, 2012

    Adam if thats a serious comment you’d want probably want to contact William Tanthum Jr directly… via

  17. Adam Henderson
    April 13, 2012

    It was a serious comment and I contacted him, no response though.

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This entry was posted on March 12, 2012 by in Club Sevens, International Rugby, Olympics, Rugby News.

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