To the friends, partners, and supporters of Old Glory,
With all that has happened since our dramatic 2023 MLR playoff run, we think it’s time we share some observations on the current state of Old Glory and our prospects for 2024 and beyond.
Major League Rugby
First, let’s pull off the band-aid right away: the recent news that our three nearest MLR competitors (Atlanta, New York, and Toronto) are either shutting down or moving away is undeniably tough. They are, however, three very different situations, which taken together tell us much about our league and ourselves.
Toronto and Atlanta were both clubs founded and run by passionate owners, former rugby players who had each become successful business leaders in their cities. Marcus Calloway and Bill Webb were both committed to the future of MLR, steadfastly facing the ongoing needs for investment in their clubs and the league, as we worked together toward a commercially sustainable model for professional rugby in North America. They were also both essentially the sole investors in their clubs, and unfortunately, those commitments ended with their untimely deaths. We miss them both as personal friends and as partners.
New York, by contrast, suffered from the challenges of a different business model being run in the most expensive city in the U.S. Heavy investments in player compensation, combined with high operating costs and a shortage of quality rugby venues in the market, resulted in an unsustainable business.
The remaining clubs in Major League Rugby are all backed by strong ownership groups, with (on average) more financial depth, business acumen, and belief in the league’s future than we have ever had. We will all compete in 2024 and plan for MLR to continue to grow and thrive through the 2031 / 2033 Rugby World Cup cycle in the US and beyond.
With that as context, we have every confidence that MLR teams will soon play again in New York, Toronto, and Atlanta, as well as several other major North American markets where rugby belongs.
Any business – including a professional sports team – will be in trouble if it lacks a laser focus on the bottom line and a plan for future succession. Since our founding, Old Glory has been committed to developing as a commercially sustainable enterprise. Although our plan anticipates that we will continue to invest in the club for years more before it begins to break even, that plan does set a clear path to success, and we are following it. Old Glory is the most commercially successful club in MLR today, measured in our revenues from partnerships and sponsors, and we are growing in this category every year. Our new General Manager for Business Affairs, Robyn Remick, is already making great strides in further professionalizing our front office and business structure, and we believe all our supporters will enjoy the enhanced game day experience Ms. Remick and her team plan to deliver at the Maryland Soccerplex this year.
Of course, all of those business efforts will be most successful if they are supported by our very reasons for being here: success on the pitch and growing the game of rugby in our region. Our compact with you is to deliver the best professional rugby in North America, evidenced by Old Glory consistently contending for the MLR Shield, in return for your support. During this off-season, we have focused on solidifying the core of players who turned our club around in 2023 and made the playoffs, with contract extensions and investments in improved team infrastructure. We have re-built our coaching staff around the defense-minded Simon Cross, who is under contract for the next three years, and added to our roster both domestic and international talent (with an emphasis on US-eligible players) whom we are confident will prove very exciting in 2024 and beyond. Old Glory will become the league standard in consistency and promotion of domestic rugby development.
In fact, it has already proven to be one of Coach Cross’s strengths that he is committed to the rugby development pathway in our region. In the last few months since relocating his family to the DC area, Simon has heavily invested his own personal time in hands-on coaching in our academies and grass roots programs. Young Glory’s U18 and U23 academy programs both made enormous strides this autumn under the leadership of Ben Cima, and programs from those academies to area senior clubs (such as our development partners Washington Irish) and collegiate teams have experienced training under Simon and the rest of Old Glory’s top coaching talent.
The DMV enjoys a rich culture of rugby institutions, and the success of our many regional partners is a testament to our passion for the game. Within the last twelve months we have seen:
- The US Naval Academy won the collegiate national championship.
- Howard University women made it to the women’s national championship game.
- Mount Saint Mary’s won the CRC national collegiate 7’s championship.
- NOVA Women made the women’s club national championship game (narrowly missing a three-peat national championship)
- Gonzaga college high school won it’s fifth national high school championship title.
In fact, we feel a focus on one of these programs is helpful in pointing to Old Glory’s future. The photo below is of a plaque at Gonzaga highlighting the recent history of its rugby program’s stalwarts – the players who participated in some of those five national championships. Note that:
- The first panel includes six current or former MLR players (five of whom are or were Old Glory players and two of whom are US Eagles), one Old Glory coach and two of Gonzaga’s coaches for this year’s championship.
- The second and third panels include eight Young Glory players, among them many possible future Old Glory Players and US Eagles
Although Gonzaga’s program may be uniquely accomplished, we know that the cultivation of greater competition and strengths across our region’s grass roots programs, from the club and collegiate teams to the high school and local youth clubs, is critical to the regional pathway we plan to achieve. Look for Old Glory and Young Glory to continue intensifying our support for those programs in the coming years.
As we hope you can read between the lines here, we are more bullish than ever on the future of rugby in North America and the prospects for the success of Old Glory and MLR. We will continue to work as hard as we know how to achieve that vision. Look to see further signs of our progress in 2024:
- We are constantly seeking to enhance the long-term sustainability of our business with the diversification of our ownership group and inclusion of new investment sources. We anticipate further news on this front throughout the coming year.
- We have never relented in our commitment to returning to play in a venue closer to the center of our region. To that end, we are today engaged in partnership discussions and advancement of plans for development of a new venue in a location inside the beltway. We hope to announce further details of these discussions in the first half of 2024.
But of course, to see our dreams of the future become a reality, WE NEED YOU on board. Join us at our games, support us on social media and in person, and be a part of the Old Glory family.
As Vince Lombardi said: “Leaders are made, not born; they’re made by hard effort, which is the price all of us must pay to achieve any worthwhile goal.”
Let’s Go Old Glory!
Chris Dunlavey and Paul Sheehy