3 minute read 13 Jan 2020
USA womens sevens team celebrate win over new zealand at stade aguile biarritz

How to make your mark in a crowded sports marketplace

3 minute read 13 Jan 2020

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USA Rugby (USAR) is following a new strategic roadmap as it seeks to find a seat at the table in the crowded US sports marketplace. 

Like most companies, sports organizations face a rapidly evolving marketplace. Changing consumer behaviors, increasingly fragmented audiences and a digital-first mindset among fans are forcing them to rethink how to approach their traditional audiences and expand into new markets.

Determined to establish the sport’s identity in this new era, USA Rugby (USAR) set out to address those challenges. While it has long been one of the major sports in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and other countries, rugby has struggled to gain a following in the US where its popularity trails mainstream sports, such as football, basketball, baseball, hockey and even soccer.

Yet, the sport has developed a strong core of fans and participants. These include a growing community of rugby clubs at US colleges, who enjoy its athleticism and camaraderie. The sport has also seen increasing participation by women, buoyed by the success of the USAR’s seven team.

Seeking to position itself for the future, USA Rugby’s leadership team began work on addressing three key areas:  

  1. Defining USAR’s brand promise framework, which encompasses purpose, vision, values and mission.
  2. Building a 10-year strategic growth framework, focusing on a sustainable operating model, growth of the game, fan base activation, performance and talent, and diversity and inclusiveness.
  3. Embarking on a digital transformation initiative to help USAR deepen its engagement with rugby fans in the US.

Over the course of three months, more than 30 USAR stakeholders were interviewed, from board members to athletes. In addition, research and benchmarking of other sports organizations was conducted. “When EY professionals bought all that feedback in and mapped it based on their current priorities, close to 200 potential initiatives were created. EY professionals narrowed that list down to 55, which are being built into the current plan,” says Angus Roxburgh, EY Global Lead - Digital Sporting Experiences.

“Rugby fans are very passionate, and they are not shy about expressing their opinion. That’s one of our strengths as an organization, our people love the sport and will offer their ideas on what we can do to move forward,” adds Mark Griffin, USAR Commercial Director.

With so many ideas surfaced, the challenge for USAR was how to take those raw ideas to fine tune their vision and mission statement and develop a roadmap for the future.

Any successful strategy needs an anchor, a purpose and mission if you will. Working with USAR, EY professionals sought to develop a values statement that would engage everyone and help them build toward the future
Angus Roxburgh
EY Global Digital Sporting Experiences Lead

USAR’s values statement, “Unite, ignite and grow” speaks to the organizations’ goals to bring together the rugby community, inspire sustainable development and position the sport for growth. 

Griffin and other USAR leaders believe that rugby has a unique window to capture more attention. The sport recently held its World Cup in Japan in advance of the upcoming 2020 Olympics. “We have a great chance to get out in front of the sports world and gain visibility over TV and other media.”

During the World Cup, the headquarters team in Colorado rallied together, holding late night watch parties when the USA team played. They also share their love for the sport by playing touch rugby games with each other and with other offices in the Denver area. Under the leadership of Griffin and CFO Eric Gleason, USAR will ensure the organization implements the strategic growth plan to raise awareness and participation in rugby in the US.

“We view it as a roadmap, not a strategic plan,” Gleason said, adding that they will be revisiting it frequently to stay on track.


Sports organizations face a rapidly evolving marketplace. Rugby has enjoyed a spot as one of the major sports in New Zealand, the UK and other nations, but has struggled to gain a following in the US.  Now, USA Rugby is seeking to carve out a space in the crowded US sports market by transforming its organization and reaching out to a strong core of fans in the US. 

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