PRP: Now that the PRP has finished it’s second season, do you think the competition has gone according to the original plan?
Bruce Thomas and Mark Bullock: As a whole yes. There are two parts to that question – on and off the field.
On the field – things have gone great. All teams have had the opportunity to play in two full seasons, in a regular competition cycle. Games are competitive week in week out; no matter who is playing each other. This was one of the key criteria for the Clubs creating the PRP; regular competitive rugby. This second year has really seen the playing standards jump; all clubs are establishing strong national and international recruitment options and that is only helping to improve the rugby played.
Off the field – things have gone OK to good. Another huge component for the formation of the PRP was to establish a cost effective and sustainable model for elite club rugby; to date, all the teams have committed to a third year, so it remains to be sustainable. We would have liked to have seen a sponsor (or two) support the PRP – but we must reflect on what we are doing and work to make the product even more viable for future sponsors in the third year. This is more a reflection of our efforts.
PRP: What are some of the key lessons the competition has learned over the last two years?
Delivering the best possible product with the resources you have access to are keys to success.
BT & MB: We have developed a good brand identity that we need to invest further in for it to grow; with two years of invested time, effort and dollars, hopefully the third year will start to garner a return in the sponsorship hunt. We must continue to develop our brand and improve marketing the PRP to future sponsors. This includes matches that can be professionally live streamed across the league. Ultimately this provides a platform for building the game and the league.
All seven of the clubs/partners in the PRP, all share the same vision and goals which has made for solid foundations on which the PRP is being built. If we did not have that cooperation, it would have been extremely difficult to get where we are now, so quickly.
PRP: From the first season to the second season the level of competition rose with teams bringing in more quality players. Do you think that is a sign that the PRP is becoming a destination for players and do you expect that to continue in the future?
BT & MB: Teams also have or are creating very strong coaching staff’s. A combination of improved play and increasing coaching resources, (those two points are interdependent), has resulted in more quality overseas players arriving in the PRP. America, regardless of rugby, is a great destination for young guys looking to experience the world, when you offer them the opportunity to use rugby as a vehicle to do that, the ability to recruit quality players becomes both much easier with increased options. All the PRP clubs are based in some of the most appealing destinations for overseas players; they get to choose from San Diego, LA, San Francisco or Denver. As the level of play increases, in conjunction with these locations, rugby in America will become much more viable for serious overseas players looking for experience. For the same reasons domestic players are seeking out the PRP. More and more players are coming from formal intercollegiate rugby programs and they want to play in well organized professionally run organizations. Member PRP clubs provide the high expectations, quality coaching and facilities/programs those players are used too.
PRP: Is expansion on the horizon for the league?
BT & MB: Catch 22 question. We currently have a sustainable competition that works for all the teams and delivers a good product. As we look to secure a title sponsor, they may want to have more exposure via more teams in other locations but at the same time, expanding too quickly can dilute what we have currently created. There are a few teams who have tentatively inquired about the process to join the PRP but there have been no formal applications to date.
PRP: SFGG and Glendale once again played to a great final. What kind of response have those matches received from the community?
BT & MB: Glendale has done a great job in injecting rugby in to the community. They have increasing numbers every year of local supporters who get behind the team, understand the game and its values and support the Club on and off the field. When you have a facility that is a focal point of a community, it must be capitalized on to grow the game. Glendale also has very professional media and marketing that allows them to get in to promotional channels and spread the word. Besides the USA, PRP matches are live streamed and viewed in over 60 countries each weekend. This provides a window of how rugby is played and refereed in America. This allows a window to American rugby and the legitimization of the game here in the States
PRP: The league has some nice facilities but others could use some improvement. What standards are there for teams in terms of facilities?
BT & MB: Something that we have always noted and acknowledged that if we want to move up to the next level as a competition and secure sponsors, the playing facilities are equally as important as the rugby; they are the canvas for the artwork. Again it boils down to doing the best with the resources each team has access to. Renting small stadiums is incredibly expensive and can limit your returns, but the process has to start somewhere. Its very much the chicken and the egg, the competition would like to secure a title sponsor to help teams cover the costs of securing better facilities but at the same point no title sponsor is going to watch a game filmed on a local field with rope barriers. We have discussed plans about each team playing double headers or a day of rugby in a small stadium once or twice a season, just to secure the footage and feedback for sponsorship acquisition. We have to explore unique opportunities to fund the ability to play in quality venues.