US Rugby legend and CEO of the New England Free Jacks, Alex Magleby, joins The Game Plan to give listeners an in-depth look at the state of rugby in the US and where the game goes from here.
On this episode our guest shines a light on the history of rugby coming to the US and shares what drew him to the game at a young age. After sustained success on the field, including three national championships at Dartmouth, our guest went on to drastically improve the US Men's National Rugby Team as head coach.
We also explore the growth of rugby in the US and how CoVid has impacted Major League Rugby. This conversation includes a discussion around the role of athlete as investor as our guest describes what it's like to have NFL players Nate Ebner & Patrick Chung as investors in the Free Jacks. Listeners will enjoy hearing about how the Free Jacks are being built as a community-first franchise.
Follow Alex on Twitter and Instagram to stay up on all of his latest news, and be sure to check out the New England Free Jacks at https://www.freejacks.com/.
Follow The Game Plan on Twitter (@thegameplanshow) and Instagram (@gameplanshow) for show news and updates, to recommend guests, and for bonus content!
You can also follow co-hosts Jay Kapoor (@JayKapoorNYC) and Tim Katt (@Tim_Katt) for all things sports, media, tech, and venture capital.
*Please excuse any and all typos, errors and mistakes in the following transcript as we use an automated service to generate this text*
I think from a media entertainment standpoint, we've probably had be a bit more creative because it's not like we don't have the media dollars immediately. So you see a lot more of our teams have done things like podcasts. We're kind of, we went to Twitch very quickly at, Mean, we have an awesome community.
I mean, rugby people are just awesome. Right? They're highly diverse. They're typically well educated. They understand that they're aware of the globe. Right. And they understand that sport is amazing, but it's just sport. Right. And so let's shake hands after and everything else. And so it's a really compelling group and they're really committed.
And I think we've been lucky because of that. so if we can continue to, to share that narrative with others, I think we'll be in a really good space.
Hi, I'm Alex Magleby, former USA rugby national team. Captain had coach now cofounder CEO of the new England free jacks and host of full contact CEO. This is the game plan,
You know, as far as the sport is considered in the US our next guest is Mr. Rugby himself. We are so thrilled to be joined by the CEO of the new England, free Jackson, former national champion, Alex Magleby Alex, thank you so much for joining us today.
Jay, Tim. Great to be on.
For those of us unfamiliar with the history of professional rugby in the U S can you offer a brief history of the sport and the league in the U S.
Yeah. From, from the context of the United States, we probably have to take a step back to globally and rugby's always been, you know, very much a school boys sport for a long time. UK grew through, you know, Colonialization of sport effectively around the world. French speaking countries, Spanish speaking countries, world cup is second largest.
Attended sporting event. Right. But it only went professional game only would professional rugby union in the mid nineties. And, you know, it took a long time to kind of figure out club versus country. And should it be a top down approach Commonwealth model? What's gonna work. What's not gonna work. So really pride itself on its amateurism for a long, long time in the United States, it's existed on college campuses, certainly since before the turn of the century American football, right.
As we know, it was just a. Codification of rugby union, rugby football. That's what it was when you would play on college campuses in the Northeast United States. And in Canada, you know, back in the 1880s, wherever you showed up, you played their rules of the game of rugby football. And sometimes there would be 11 people.
Sometimes it would be 15. Sometimes there would be scrummaging allowed more of a kicking game. And so Walter camp at Yale, he could have fired the rules. He took the scrum in rugby. It became the scrimmage line and football play stopped at the whistle, but a touchdown really, you know, it's like rugby. You actually have to touch the ball down.
And that's where you get your kick for it. It was a try instead of a touchdown. You try for points, but it was on college campus in the United States forever, but American football took off rugby, continued to kind of do its thing. you know, post world war two. Well, a lot of guys come back from the war.
They bring rugby back, introduced to college campuses. It's kind of a fun, let's go on break where the football team and have a great time. And that's where you see a lot of it as a growth. And so you saw that on the campuses, especially, you know, seventies, eighties, eighties. It was very much like counterculture.
No coaching. We're going to go out a lot of really good athletes and guys are just going to have fun running around and maybe there's a cake on the sideline. Right. And that's kind of like how the rugby experience, right. And then a few colleges campuses were like, wait a minute. We're starting to see demand from high schools, high school students who are wanting to play.
We're starting to see the female game pickup and perhaps with some, just some, some better coaching and resourcing. This could actually be a really, really important part of the student athlete experience at our institutions. You start to see that and you start to see a lot more programs move towards like men's and women's crew, where now you see that with women's rugby.
It's an NCAA. Emerging sports men's rugby on certain campuses is, is more performance based as opposed to recreational, recreational intermural. And so you've seen that change. There's been a demand as Olympic rugby has come back, you know, Rio, we, we took the, the two teams 2016. It was the first time it was back since 1924, the U S actually won the gold medal in 24.
but you started to see, then people are like, Oh, wait a minute. We would love to see more. Yeah, not just our college team playing, but. And not just our Olympic team playing that we don't get to see very much, but actually we want to see rugby on a more regular basis. And so you started to see the Genesis of professional rugby in various capacities over the last few years.
Yeah. And you started playing rugby at a very young age. how did you get into the sport and you know, what kept you going with it for as many years as it has?
Do you know it's, it's funny, you ask that you guys just had Stu Bradley on the show, right?
we did. Yeah, he was our last
Yeah. So Stu is probably 60. She was younger than I was at Highland high school. Right. So that's where, it's where he played football and rugby in high school went to the same high school and there's business. Great tradition of rugby in salt Lake city for years and years.
you know, there's a high. You know, half the Island of Tonga is Mormon and they come to, they come to the United States and salt Lake is definitely Mecca and you've got this great Polynesian American population. Who's always embraced rugby. in salt Lake and in Utah, BYU has always had a really strong program.
The university of Utah, historically our high school won back USA. Rugby has seven national championship. They want it like 27 times or something. Crazy out of the 30 years that existed. Right. And you look at like that Stew's class, that group three or four of those guys went to the NFL. So real athletes, no, we train five days a week.
We treated it just like we did football, we'll play football in the fall, you know, did different things in the winter. And then certainly in the, in the spring we played rugby together. So I had this amazing experience right in the nineties. Playing really high level high school rugby. I got to travel the world with my, with my high school team and nobody else had that experience.
And they showed up at Dartmouth and it existed on like on a campus here for six plus decades. And it was good rugby. And suddenly it's like, wait a minute. I have no 40 best friends from all over the world that I get a continued Canadian to do this. So I had that experience of being introduced at an early age to the game, which now you're starting to see a lot more boys and girls have that experience.
that's right. And you found your way from playing into then coaching and eventually managing. All the way up to the us national team. So talk to us a little bit about that journey and you know, what kept you with rugby, for as many years as, as it has today.
Yeah. You know, it's interesting. It's interesting. I'm not, I was quite lucky. Like when I came out of high school, the game was going professional. When I was leaving college, I got picked for the national team because that's when sevens, the world series was created, you know, like they combined Hong Kong, sevens and Wellington, and there's a lot of great grand Prix style tournaments that were starting to become professionalized.
So. I had the opportunity late in college to get selected, to kind of chase that down, which was fantastic again. And just timing was everything, but it wasn't enough to live the rest of your life on, right. You're getting paid to basically go around the world and play and it'll pay for your time away. But that's that's it.
So I had to do something else. In the meantime, I was an engineer. I done my banking internship with Morgan Stanley. I'll say the transport group. I was like, okay, these are my options. I'm going to be an engineer lab. And what am I going to do? I'm going to chase rugby. Okay. I'm going to chase rugby. Right.
So I got to do that for two years. I'm going to commit to it just like I would, if I was going into banking is now. So I'm going to give two years do everything I possibly can. And then, yeah. And then see what happens. But while I was playing the, you know, the team I played for in college, Dartmouth had lost their head coach.
He was a great coach. He retired after a lot of years and they did it just a temporary assistant. It worked out, it was kind of my off season for training. So I was able to train, wait a minute. I kind of like this coaching thing. This is pretty cool. Lo and behold, the seasons were offset when I could play.
So half the year I'm playing, traveling the world. The other half of the year, I get a. You know, work with great student athletes at Dartmouth. and then, you know, I became the head coach and then I realized I need a better way to do quality control management. I was really in analytics at the time. And how am I going to do that?
And there was a software program at the time sports code that was just, this was kind of 2000, that was just coming into play. It was big and kind of world rugby was starting to use it. And we couldn't get access to it. So like, how am I gonna, how am I going to get that tool? Cause I really want this as a coach selfishly, and you couldn't get it.
So I created a distribution channel and then suddenly I realized there's other people that wanted this tool. And suddenly I was in every back office of flow sports in the United States, working with kind of the best soccer programs, ice hockey programs, basketball programs, lacrosse, field hockey. And it was a great way for me and a great education for me to see how.
Other teams organize what their workflow was, what their management structure as well. And I was just, they thought I was coming in to help them with their analytics, but I was just leaving all this other information. So that's kinda, that was kinda my journey into, and then as I started to get towards the end of my playing career, I had this situation set up where it could be coaching.
And I could also, as I can be professional coach and also at a, at a software startup and analytics. So yeah. Was it a good situation to continue that movement forward that transition forward?
So I want to dig more into that transition, but before we do that, I guess I'm curious, you know, you won multiple national championships. When you were in college, you were a team MVP. Did you ever think about pursuing the opportunity to play overseas?
I did. I actually went to New Zealand and I played, I was playing on the North Harbor structure playing for a club there, Silverdale and I had a moment there where, you know, sitting down with my national team coaches. And that was when sevens was really starting to become specialized. So. Rugby union there's fifteens the traditional game, right?
That's what we play in major league rugby. And that's what you'd probably recognize. That's the all blacks. Right? And then sevens is like taking rugby fifteens and putting on a rocket and lighting it on fire. Right? That's seven. That's the same size of field. That 14 minutes you run a 400 meter sprint, do 10 up downs, wrestle a bear and do that again.
You know, like 10 times in 14 minutes and you do that whole week and that's like Hong Kong sevens, but sevens are starting to become a bit more specialized. And at the time I was doing both for the U S. And I had a good sit down with my coaches and I said, listen, this is what your career probably is going to look like.
If you continue with fifteens, you're gonna have to put on 20, 30 pounds, you are going to have to be that journey when you're never going to quite yet be at that level where you're going to be guaranteed contracts. Yeah. As an American, especially going over to Europe. You know, there's only two foreign spots and, you know, an American compared to a Kiwi or South African, that's going to be a challenge for you.
Right? So that's that journey, right? Or this journey where you're going to be seven and you can continue to push you. Just got to get a lot fitter. Yeah. I may actually be a little lighter than you are now, but you can continue chasing coaching and your software company. What's your pick. And so they helped me articulate.
My decision making matrix pretty easily. And so I kind of pushed towards more of the sevens model at that stage. but I'm still able to coach fifteens and everything else, but that's, that was the decision was laid out pretty, pretty well.
And you, you talked about the introduction , of sevens and sort of how the sport has evolved in the U S. And I'm kind of thinking about, I guess, because it's a, it's a nascent sport, right? You think about how in South Africa or in Australia, New Zealand, it's so much more popular. Kids grow up watching it, you know, the all blacks are the national team.
They're so popular. And similarly, in other countries, how have you seen the attitudes towards rugby, whether it's fifteens or sevens change at the youth level at the college level. And then obviously now at the professional level,
Yeah. And I think there's a, there's a lot of ways that you've seen happen over the last 20 years. Certainly the Scholastic model has changed and that's continuing to evolve where you now can play high school rugby. Right. And you can be coached by people. Who are certified in their career coaches. They also may be teachers they're a generation or two now into doing that.
So you've got quality coaching. You've got an athletic trainer, you've got facility access. So you're starting to see that change at the high school level. And there's a demand for co for colleges to have better setups. Right. And you're starting to see that as well. Women and men, and you have some colleges that are chasing college rugby because it's going to increase the male population or that it gives a higher international branding opportunities or just national branding opportunities.
We've seen a lot of programs that universities that otherwise probably wouldn't be in the framework of a conversation around sports. I use rugby as a tool to do so. And then certainly obviously the women's game as an NCAA emerging sport, there's more opportunities for the student population. The women athletes to, to chase a high level high level game.
So you've got this classic model that's really started to develop. You've got the Olympic movement. That's come back in. Right? So starting in 2012, we are chasing real for 2016 and that's a robust, very Americana understanding being of a, of a pathway is that Olympic movement. So a bit more amateur than professional.
But we've treated it as professional, but it's, it's that, that layer that in, and then lo and behold, there's been generations of people who in some capacity have been exposed to rugby and their lifetime in the United States, whether they've immigrated from countries where that's important or they've been introduced to in school or just for business, they went to a six nations match or a world cup match, which are now way more commercialized than they were 20 years ago.
So they're getting exposed and then I can see it on TV now because it's on CVS, it's on NBC, it's on ESPN. I get access to seeing it. And so that, that kind of, all of those things piling in has made for a ripe opportunity for people to get exposed. And then like, wait a minute. This game is something that I kind of understand.
Cause they're kicking, they're passing. Everybody's doing giving goes there's ball movement. There's tackling. I understand all those things. Oh. And by the way, they shake hands after, if not hug and then have dinner and maybe a beer together. This is a really good, cool sport.
Yeah, absolutely. So in your role as coach of the U S national team, you made some major improvements for the team walking into a situation like that, where we're talking about a sport, you know, that isn't. One of the core four or five sports here in the U S where do you start to make the change in a place where sport is such a part of the nations, you know, heritage and pride.
Yeah. So, so for us is we're understanding what, what do we have today, right? What are the players that we have access to today? Right. And what is it then potentially our competitive advantage as a group with our current athletes, so that we can get in the very short term. Right. And for us. Kind of we, what we collectively decided looking at, who we had and then kind of where it, yeah.
Mathletes were coming from what sports they grew up with, particularly in rugby sevens on the field. You know what? We can dominate the restart game, the restarts that's when that's, when it's a kickoff, basically in football, I used to go 10 meters. But it's live ball when you go there. So if we can control that aspect of the game as our competitive advantage, because we've got athletes who spent their whole life catching a ball above their head effectively, right.
And having aerial skills to do so then we could actually be pretty good because two thirds of all possession in rugby seven certainly comes from that aerial part of the game. And you're doing it when you're, when you're winning those restarts, you're doing it against a fractured defense. So suddenly we don't actually have to be that good at rugby.
In the short term, we just have to dominate the restarts. And if we do that, then we're going to quickly go from a team that's 14th in the world to, you know, to top 10, to top five. And that's what we started to see. And then as that, as that is happening, we're doing better development systems. Adjusting the culture.
What are behavior norms? Anything that a good team is, is also focusing on building and a good organization. We kind of just built systems to support kind of that, that eventual growth on the field.
So it sounds like you took your background as an engineer and analytics to do a little bit of money ball. In in the rugby game.
Yeah. So that can be a problem too sometimes. Right? Here's the old saying goes, you know, keep the data close, but keep the humanity closer. Right. And that's like, sometimes we get too, too stuck on the data and this is in very much sports or relationship business for sure.
So here you're in the States major league, rugby is an interesting model compared to what we know and the NBA and NFL, and that essentially owned and governed and also live is just such a key piece of it. tell us a little bit more about that model and, and how you guys have set it up so that rugby can really thrive professionally here in the U S.
Absolutely. And I think, you know, you'd be familiar with, the MLS model, right? Where it's, you know, it's a central LLC, then it's owned by the local LLCs at a, at a central level. Right. And it's all equal ownership in one model. What that allows us to do okay. Is decide how we can best capitalize that the money we do have, but also manage our costs as we, as we grow.
Right. And right now we have. Some, some really healthy, recurring revenue in terms of, well, covert aside, you know, ticket attendance, food and Bev, those kinds of like blocking and tackling of sports entertainment, right. Without the, the media piece. Right. So we need to be really, really good at those parts, in order to and survive those parts of order to get to that point where we have.
Really really high quality media dollars as well. And that's kind of the longterm plan of starting a league the way we started it, for sure. and, and it's just a great experience at the end of the day, you go to a rugby match, half the people don't even watch it. And they're like, wow, that's amazing. But they're having such a fun time in the atmosphere.
It's such a festival. People are in costumes, you know, you're wearing a different Jersey that I'm wearing. We're buying each other a drink and it's just, it's fun. Right. And that's the attractiveness and why for us live is so important right now. and there's a lot of then micro life. That's a go around that and the city and yeah.
So they have fan groups meeting in pubs and cookouts and five K races together and strong man contests and all those things. Yeah. Right. So live is really, really important part of, of, of how we develop. Certainly there's a big media play there. but that's really small nuggets right now taking that same experience and.
Giving you 30 seconds of that a day as we kind of build that part out. And obviously consumer consumer products is an important piece to any, you know, sports media company. And that's been really healthy for us. Our merchandise, I think, has been unique, you know, just classic rugby jerseys and then high-performance rugby outfits and those things.
And yeah, that's been a really important piece for us as well as consumer.
You know, we're, we're recording this at the beginning of August. In month, I guess, what is it? Five or six now of, of COVID we're a, you know, all feeling the effects of the sports hiatus. Although now some of our favorite leagues are coming back. Given how important live is to your league, to the free jacks.
How are you as CEO of the free Jackson managing, what's happening now with the sports hiatus and, and the pause with the season?
Every day, it's a new iteration on. 10 plans. Right? Literally I was just on a phone call again with our league office. Okay. How do we manage this? If this happens, right. It's a constant iteration. and I think we're, we're in a pretty healthy position from a, from a cash point of view from what's happening in the world around.
Okay. We're learning a lot of lessons. We speak to a lot of other sports that are going through this, or have gone through this. You look at the success of what the PLL just went through. And I spoke to Mike Graybeal about this, right? When they're heading in. And that they had zero positive tests and that experience MBA's done a really good job in their bubble as well.
the NWSL before that, so they've kind of had those bubble experiences and then we're going to learn a bit from, from what's happening in certain other sports right now in the big five and there, who aren't doing the bubble experiences, but limiting or no participation in some cases, but you're starting to even see with USL and then heading into the NFL season.
There'll be some. Attendance, aloud and seeing how that, how that's managed. but we're on top of it every day. And there's so many parts to it. It's like not only okay, the pre arrival and the, and the arrival and the experience, cause you want them to have a great experience. but then also the education that goes with it, for everybody involved, the team that's visiting the team you have.
so all of those things are playing out and. At the end of the day, we'll we'll have a season. It's just, do we, do we, do we push that off a little bit? Do we do no attendance and just make it so attractive on, on TV? That, that, yeah, it's compelling enough. And what we're keep iterating on those options as we speak.
Yeah. You mentioned that point about the cash position, given that it's a new league, I'm very curious about. How the funds flow from a league support standpoint for the free jacks. How much of that is your role going out and finding the capital to go build, you know, the organization versus the support that you're getting from the overall league structure, to build out the teams.
Yeah. So each team. And then when I, when I came on board and I brought my co founder, Eric Anderson with me at the time principal owner. So principal owner for us, our LLC, we've also pack as other owners over time in that investors who have want to come in and, and be a part of the growth of this. Right.
Because if you look at okay, sports, why sports, right? And you're like, okay, so, well, Limited supply, right. And certainly, you know, recurring revenue that exists and manage liabilities that there's a pretty attractive narrative around just sports in general, right? Increase the number of billionaires.
There's so many ways we can ability to raise funds and other ways that probably didn't exist prior to where you can have, you know, funds investing into IntelliQ. So sports in general, we talked about rugby. so, so it's a compelling, it's a compelling narrative. and then. My job has been okay. Let's just make sure we're in a capital strong position at the local level, right?
Where the revenue that we're bringing in on a day to day basis, but also investors who are with us for the long term and understand this play and that money, we filter up to the league. So that's what's happening with all our members. And then we give capital call to the league in the leagues, then in a position to, to best manage, you know, we brought in a, a really good new staff at the league level.
George Killebrew. He was a chief revenue officer of the Dallas Mavericks. The last 20 years was part of all their successes in terms of their revenue, successes, and is now our commissioner is doing a fantastic job and he's, he's put a really good team around him, to continue to drive the revenue at the top level as well, the umbrella revenue.
So we're actually in a, in a good capital position because of that.
Yeah. And you mentioned the piece about bringing new investors and owners in, and I know we had chatted about this briefly, but some of the investors co-owners of the free jacks are folks like Nate Ebner, who you've got right behind you there, Patrick Chung, you know, both players from the new England Patriots.
And it's just part of this interesting trend of NFL and NBA athletes that have gotten involved as. Minority owners in MLS. And now obviously increasingly rugged the teams. Talk to us a little bit about your expenses with having those individuals, those athlete, investor, individuals involved in your sport and in your team.
Yeah, absolutely. Nate and I, we go way back. Nate played for the U S rugby under twenties, the under nineteens before basically walking on the football team at Ohio state, kind of learning to play football. And then, you know, going, going to the paths and doing very successful. He is nine years in, I think he's, you know, nine years now this year it will be with the giants, but so.
One of the first conversations I had, it was with Nate, just like, Hey, listen, we're building this. How do you want to be involved? We'd love to have you involved one way or the other that can either, you can take your dollars and put them to work. Cause you understand what, what this runway is and what this is going to look like.
you can be involved as a player, which would we love, but obviously he's, he's chasing other things right now. And someday, maybe you come in as. As general manager or whatever the case may be. Right. And the similar conversation with Patrick and there's been conversations with others at the, at the, at the end of the day.
It's okay. They have, they have capital they're sophisticated investors. They've also seen professional sports and the sports entertainment side for a long time. Now, whether that's, you know, playing in a place like in Pat's case here at Oregon, or, or even Nate you're at Ohio state, you see, see what that world is like.
You see that you understand this classic model then of course you understand what it takes to be successful from a performance. Side of things, you know, in the NFL and just having kind of additional advisors who can see the world from that lens is really important. Especially the players lens. I think that's a, that's an important key.
Yeah. Speaking of other leads, we also talked about how the model of matrix. Soccer is somewhat similar to how major league rugby structured in these early days of the league. How are you thinking about growth driving growth and awareness is part of it let's find big names in the sport, or even a guy like Nate Abner post NFL career to come in and be a part of this, or is it solely focused on developing young talent and putting the best product on the field from a
Yeah. And I think that it can't be mutually exclusive. Right. But the way rugby typically works, I mean, I would ask you guys right now, name, the most famous rugby player in the world. And a lot of people would struggle with that piece.
Yeah, rugby league. Cause he's the Niners and then Fiji sevens.
Right? Right. Okay. Good. You got one? Okay. so I think you see that that's not our sport. Hasn't been like that it hasn't been star driven, you know, for the wing to score 14. Other people really had to do their job and that's the ethos of it. And perhaps the self for us, not that we don't want to create stars probably want to create heroes, but in a way that's probably a bit more.
I don't want this to come across wrong, but a bit more NASCAR than NFL as opposed to aspirational. I'm not saying that they're not heroic or anything else like that, but they're probably more is after the end of the game, you can go on the field and you can shake their hands and they're going to be gentlemen, and they're going to engage with you.
And I think that's probably more the angle. It doesn't mean that high court. Quality rugby players, which we have in the league. We have a very good, it's a very good product from a rugby standpoint. it doesn't sell, but unless you're like a rugby nerd, you're not going to understand kind of who's who or anything else you're going understand the flow.
If you're not used to the game, you're going to stay in the contact. You can understand that. Okay. About every 30 seconds, I get a small break to ask questions and have a sip of my beer and then see a scrum. Right. And you're going to understand kind of those things, but not necessarily the big names, cause it's not really how the sport is sold itself.
so for us, it's probably a bit more creating heroes that are relatable. I think that's really, really important at the same time. We've created a grassroots development program, but that's a longterm, you know, we're we're salary cap adjustments will happen today based on the investments you're making and the number of participants.
Participants you're bringing to the sport today. Right? So that's, that's a really important piece. And we're seeing that at the end or teens, you know, free Jack's, we've partnered with boys and girls clubs and other things like that that, you know, boys and girls now can play touch rugby and they suddenly love it.
And they're like, okay, take me to the next step. I want to play seven. Yeah. Was rugby taking the next step. Okay. Yeah. To do some contact and suddenly they're demanding that their high school has a rugby team and then suddenly they're getting to yeah. You know, a great college degree because. They were also good at rugby along with other things.
So, that's, that's the general model. I think from a media entertainment standpoint, we've probably had be a bit more creative because it's not like we don't have the media dollars immediately. So you see a lot more of our teams have done things like podcasts. We're kind of, we went to Twitch very quickly at, As soon as we shut down the season, we had a virtual competition.
We were kind of the first into that, doing that, which was, which was really good and kind of being creative around that I think is a really important piece. If we can have compelling stories in that regard, the people want to be involved with, because we have this really. Mean, we have an awesome community.
I mean, rugby people are just awesome. Right? They're highly diverse. They're typically well educated. They understand that they're aware of the globe. Right. And they understand that sport is amazing, but it's just sport. Right. And so let's shake hands after and everything else. And so it's a really compelling group and they're really committed.
And I think we've been lucky because of that. And yeah, I mean, so if we can continue to, to share that narrative with others, I think we'll be in a really good space.
Yeah. And I love that point about youth participation. I mean, every stat basically shows that the highest correlation to becoming a fan of a sport is having played that sport at a young age. But it's a real big challenge cause you're saying, okay, how can we focus on grassroots now? And that's not going to pay off for.
10 15, 20 years. And I guess, you know, that's the challenge with starting anything is balancing the, the vision you have for growth and what's something can be with that day to day. All right. We still gotta put a great product on the field. We still need to improve, every single day and make sure we're doing things that capture fans today, not just improving the awareness and participation of the sport for the longterm.
Absolutely. And I think we there's a lot of lessons there. I think today what we have access to is where. A lot of other leagues started and did really well and were a lot of other leagues really struggled. And I think MLS has a really good model for that. Some teams that really re really chase the suburban mom and hi youth participation alone.
I probably didn't do as well as those, that really community first, whether people were participants or not, they also could layer in on top of what already existed were millions and millions of participants in the sport where we have hundreds of thousands in the U S we don't have millions of participants.
So we don't have that advantage. But what we can do is incentivize our members to invest today, to ensure that we get that participation model at the same time. Being really good at sharing what our community is all about. And I think when people really get that, that part of it and say, wait a minute, we're singing songs and we're marching and you know, it's okay.
I celebrate the workweek and all these great people. And it's just, and I think that we gotta have the duality is really important.
There's an interesting piece about that, that culture, right? Cause it's coming at a time where, especially, you know, the, the biggest sort of youth sport, I mean, are, you could be soccer, but probably football in the U S there's a lot of questions around it around safety, around youth participation. It seems like.
Every other day, there's some sort of, you know, question on ESPN where like, will, will you let your son play football? And you're coming into sort of a youth point from, from basically bringing an alternative and saying, look, it gets all the things that you love about football, but you know, maybe it's safer.
Maybe it's sort of a better culture around it. Have you thought about sort of that angle? Yeah. As how you've presented rugby on the youth stage.
Yeah, I think, you know, there are, there are a lot of folks out there who want to sell rugby. Has the, the safe version of a contact sport. And I don't want to be us being in the business where we're trying to sell something that is safer than football. Certainly the annex, the evidence would be there to support not only anecdotally, but also the data would support that.
Yes, you're going to have significantly less hidden head injury for the longterm in rugby world. Rugby has probably. Been at the forefront of trying to be ahead of that, but I wouldn't want to sell it as this is a completely safe game. I just, if I was selling soccer, I wouldn't say that either. Right. But what rugby has been able to do in very much as is teach, you know, football players, how to be better tacklers.
Right. We've really, we've been able to go in to a lot of NFL teams and college teams and high school teams and teach them. Okay. Well, Our game is slightly different. Cause we're, we're wider. We have more space. We have more width and getting that one extra yard isn't as important, but in open play, this is how we'd go about looking at our tackles where our hands away, because rugby it's a wrap up.
You're I mean, it's, it's totally different. It's more of a wrestle as opposed to. There there is contact, but I wouldn't say it's a football collision game. I grew up playing both loved them, both, but definitely football was that kind of impact rugby. It's more like, okay, body against body. Our heads are totally out of the picture where I'm tackling you below kind of your, your shoulders, your nipple line.
I have to wrap up. If I, if I take you off the ground, I have to pull you to ground safely. So there's. There's certainly a lot of those elements that make football players. Absolutely. but yeah, I mean, I think there is what people are finding is probably the greatest thing about rugby is self determinant.
I'm running up the field, holding the ball and Jay, if I pass to you, Or not right. Tim's going to support me. Right. Because it's the decision I made, but he now has to support me. Right. And that's the great thing about it. And so you see that this, how are that gives little boys and girls when they start learning to play this and adults, when they start playing touch rugby, who've never played the game before.
It's like, wait a minute. I can catch this. Run-up I'm not going to pass you. Maybe I'm going to pass you. I'm going to run this way. You got to follow me. Right. And it's, it's an amazing, it's an amazing, powerful decision making sport in that regard.
Yeah. And speaking of the full contact aspect of it, these days you've even gotten into the podcasting business, giving Tim and I a little bit of run for our money, with your own podcast called full contact CEO. So tell us more about the podcast and what you are hoping to accomplish
with that show.
Yeah. So what we're looking at, where we were in this weird, rare experience where you get to be in a startup in sports, in rugby, in the United States, like it never happens. And it's like, Oh, people are like, you're crazy, but it never happened. So. We might as well share the fact that it's new. We're not like we can't look at another, the group that's done this before, so we're going to be making lots of mistakes.
Okay. Let's make them quickly. Hopefully let's get base case practices before we make those mistakes. And let's share that experience, as we learn, because there's probably some nuggets in here that other people can take away. So let's do that. And so we've kind of gone down a couple of different verticals in terms of our, our podcasts.
One is more about like, Pathways. How do you get involved in rugby, more rugby centric, a lot of international coaches on that kind of talking the game, right. blood, sweat, and beers, you know, that's Tammy Christie curse. She's, she's great. She's hopefully going to be an Olympian, but fantastic player for the U S women's team.
And they kind of just like fun banter talk about some serious stuff, but really just kind of that fun side of, of, of rugby. And, and in my role is full contact. CEO is like, okay, let's take these conversations that are already happening and let's share parts of it if we can with, with the, with the world and talk to other people in sports entertainment, from all different aspects of it and share those experiences a lot of fun.
And I've learned so much already
going through that process.
Yeah, it sounds like a lot of the same reasoning that change. I started the game plan. So excited to, to hear what you're doing and have our listeners check out full context, CEO as well. similar vein. What are you most excited about as you look towards the future for you in the free jacks?
I mean, there's so many aspects to that. Like there's so many, I'm really excited to just share what we've all experienced, you know? And I've seen the game from a performance level for a long, long time, but I had this conversation in the day and it's, it's like, why do you keep coming back to it? Because it's fun.
Right. At the end of the day, it's just really, really fun. We're in the business of joy and to be able to share that with other people. Awesome. And that's, that's what I'm really looking forward to. And like, that's why like going back when we can get into live events and even if that's only 20% attendance to start, or we can start growing that back up again.
That's what I'm really, really excited for. You know, we've been doing like zoom Hangouts with our founding members and they've been awesome and it's just like banter and it's so funny. People from all walks of life, it's, it's very cool.
Yeah. I love that framing of the founding members. That's a, that's a really cool way to get that community excited and involved. And I, you know, you're, you're practicing what you preach, which is you're, you're laying out the framework for somebody. Coming in and building something new, whether it's a sports league or, you know, whether it's just their startup, having that real groundswell and sort of that, you know, grassroots movement of fans and community is such a powerful thing.
So I love that framing of it.
Absolutely like, think about it, like, okay, so, okay. I'm a Boston red Sox founding member. How cool would that be to be able to pass on your kids and be like, okay. I was part of that process. And then I was able to get together with the owners and the players and, and talk, what is working, what is not working and be a part of creating something of value for our community.
And that's, that's a really cool part.
Yeah. So we close on the same question, with, with all of our guests, which, you know, we'd like to leave on that hopeful note. What is some advice that you would give. Your younger self. Now, looking back on your career, as you approached life sports and business.
Yeah, that can go in so many different ways,
ask you that question this afternoon, or maybe different than what I would say this morning. I think in general, at the end of the day, right. Is as individuals, we really have to be self aligned. We have to do work. But work by itself doesn't work. Right? You get, you gotta be able to execute.
And I think we lose that a lot in a lot of my coaching was around that. How best can I help, help you guys do that execution part? Well, because we're in the business of performance. this that's really important. So you, but you gotta be self reliant, you gotta do your part. And then at the same time, you kinda gotta, you got to live in harmony with everything else, and you've gotta be aware of the fact that you're just a little part of it and that you have to have awareness of.
Others that are around you and there's a bigger community. And the way we, we kind of capture that with the free Jack's is humble, hardworking, have fun. And that humble piece is okay. That really is just a prioritization of needs. It's it's it's community team self it's not isn't important stuff is really important.
We've got to take care of ourselves because that'll help us be better teammates. That'll help our team be better. Oh, we're doing this because we're trying to create a better community and the community comes first in our prioritization. Right? That's so that's how we kind of frame that. And that, that hardworking part again, is work works, but it's you, we can't confuse effort with accomplishment, right?
We gotta be smart about that. We gotta be clear about what our roles are so that we can have competency within our roles. That's really important. And at the end of the day, that have fun. Is crucial, like as human beings we need to play, but also play is where we get a lot of the adaptability. And when we're able to be creative and play and have fun, then I think we get the, we get the whole thing.
So being self-reliant I think is really important, but being doing that in harmony with others is even more important.
Yeah. And especially in these days where we are all living through. You know, it sounds like a cliche, but like unprecedented times, remembering that is such an important thing to wake up to every morning where you're like, yeah, look, it's a new reality. We're all dealing with it, but it's, you know, going about it with that positivity and that foresight, I think is such an important thing.
So Alex, we just want to thank you so much for joining us today on the game plan for sharing your story with us and for sharing your excitement, for the sport of rugby in the U S and for the free jacks. So thank you so much for joining us.
Jay Tim. It was great to be on.
All right, Tim. That was a great conversation with the CEO of the new England, free jacks, Alex mangabey. But now it's time for the partner rundown. Let's get right into it. So we talked to Alex about presenting rugby as a safer alternative to football, which he pushed back on. But do you think it's a strategy worth pursuing.
Yeah. I was actually a little surprised that he pushed back on it, to be honest with you. But I guess when you break it down, he was talking more about. Specifically the safety issue and he's right. Not to say, Hey, we're a safer alternative to football, but I do think that the youth sports level is really competitive and kids have so many different options.
Youth participation overall is going down, even though there's more options, more sports, we see the. Push that lacrosse is making with premier league lacrosse. so with that in mind, you should do whatever you can to build up participation at the grassroots level. And so if positioning yourself against football and as an alternative to that is lucrative or appeals to families, appeals to parents, they should definitely do that.
And overall, I think it's going to help the game of rugby
grow in this country.
Yeah. You know, where I don't disagree with you is the fact that you have to do anything. In your power when you're a nascent league. And you're trying to break through to parents who have so many options and have a limit amount of money, but where I don't like the approach is, is that safety piece, because you're kind of hanging your hat on that one thing.
Right? So, so the challenge with that is like, If years from now, it comes out that actually it's not safer. It's, it's just as challenging as you know, head injuries are in football. Then now you have led a whole generation of players down that path. It really comes down to values and the values that resonate with your audience and with your community.
And in this case, the values that he espouses are. You know, those, of good sportsmanship of, of, you know, athleticism, ism of supporting, you know, just being part of something new and that being those core pillars, that he is excited about sharing with rugby and with his fans and rugby. And so I think hanging his hat on that one piece around safety, can kind of
be a double edged sword and maybe not something they want to go down.
we'll do it. You're starting to hit on one of my favorite things that Alex talked about, which was how he's building a community around his club. Do you think community first growth is a real possibility or just something we like to talk about on podcasts?
I don't think it's something that we just talk about on podcast. And I think community is really important and a very important part of the way that businesses are built today. And let's just think about it on an atomic level of why that is. Well, how much has it cost you to acquire a new customer versus how much has it cost you to retain.
And sell to an existing customer. Every single time that existing customer is going to be cheaper for you to work with. So where does community play into it? Well, community is the way that you get to engage that existing customer in new and interesting ways for you to be able to really support them over the lifetime of their relationship with you.
And so the challenge here is that yes, it takes a lot of. You know, work in the early days to build that community, but in the longterm, it pays off a lot of dividend. And that's why you see social media companies do so well with community because that work effect builds your brand and builds those relationships for you.
Well, I think you bring up a really good point with an existing brand. When they're thinking about how do we monetize existing customers versus new customers. But what about the new brands that are out there they're faced with all new customers?
And this is really the opportunity being community first, or trying to build a cult brand where you can drive a wedge in. Against your competition. Think about like a Barstool sports. For example, they really able to drive a wedge in right against ESPN because they realize there's things we can do that they just can't talk about.
And. It was Roger Goodell at the NFL and Dave Portner, trying to create a rivalry. What's he doing with his newest endeavor, with his finance and stock picks. He's trying to create a wedge against Warren buffet, one of the most prolific investors of all time. And so that's how he's creating community.
That's how he's leveraging that to build a new brand. And I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned there. It's not just about the community you're building, but it's also about picking the right enemy so that you can find your audience.
And Tim, speaking of rivalries, bringing it back to the world of sports. One of the things that we've seen with new leagues is athletes getting involved as investors, whether it's our guest, Trevor Booker, or it's Mia, Hamm, and Serena Williams, and the new NWS sells LA expansion.
Why do you think athletes are getting so involved as investors in sports teams?
well, it's time. It's time for the tables to shift. I think the opportunity is there more than ever was before because of these new leagues. So you've seen this massive growth that is shown the core four sports or core five in the U S as good financial investments, which justifies that. And other people want to participate that especially the players who played such a.
Important part in that growth. I mean, we talked to Michael red on this show and he talked about, it was a battle between the millionaires and the billionaires. Well, which side of the table would you rather be on? And so I think it's exciting. It takes a really longterm outlook. I think for a lot of these folks, even though I was saying they see the opportunity from a financial standpoint right now on the ground level, they're just excited to get involved in something that they're passionate about.
Well, and they can start to think about it from that longterm perspective, because most of them are in their thirties or maybe early forties. And they're looking at this as building generational wealth. And that's something that you hear a lot of players both on this show and elsewhere talk about what they want to do with their investments is build that generational wealth.
Well, Look at the NFL, right? Most of those teams pass from generation to generation. The folks that own it now are third generation owners of those NFL teams. This is not just something they're trying to invest in for themselves, but they're hoping that as these leagues grow, as the winners change, especially as soccer starts to become really important to rugby starts to become really important.
They are making an investment today that hopefully their grandchildren are going to be team owners for. And I think that that sort of longterm thinking should be commended. That's obviously not the only thing that these athletes are investing in, but it is one of the properties that they are looking to from a longterm holding standpoint.
And yeah, absolutely. They should share in that they should be owners. It shouldn't just be the billionaires that do so.
So taking it a little bit different direction. I recently watched HBO is a weight of gold, which details the mental health challenges, U S Olympians face in pursuit of athletic excellence. Jay, I know you've seen the documentary. What are your thoughts?
Yeah. It's I mean, this was a beautifully made film by director Brett Rapkin and Michael Phelps. And yet it left me really sad and angry. I mean, one of the things that. We as a culture of us sports do, as we build up these heroes and we celebrate them before they go on to compete at the highest stage and they prepare for four years to go out there and compete.
And then 40 seconds later, they're done. And Apollo owner, the speed skater, you know, in the Olympian spoke about, Hey, unless you get gold. Like, nobody's talking to you, silver, bronze, get outta here. Right. And so we expect this excellence. And yet when these folks come back and they have competed at the highest level for our entertainment and our glory, we don't support them in the right way.
And so I think even just from a fan perspective, that needs to change the way that we celebrate them before we need to celebrate them and support them
in their mental health challenges after.
yeah, J and this is a lot of the reason why we started the game plan. It was to be able to highlight those stories. And really focus on and feature the full human, not just the athlete we came to know and love on the field. And I think it starts at a much younger age and that's why I love it. Patrick Ione, former MLS player, and U S Olympian had to share with us and really has made his life focused, which is how can I help kids.
At a very young age, understand what sports about, understand how to delve develop and grow in a sport and just be more self aware. And I hope that that can pay off in the long term and only time is going to tell, but even the fact that this documentary exists and is out there and is bringing up this important narrative is a great thing.
And so we'll see now that the Olympics have been delayed a year and there's just more focus on this, it could be an opportunity for the Olympians to, to rally realize the value they create. And go to Olympics with that to try and experience some of that upside.
Yeah, Tim. You're absolutely right. Wouldn't that be something if this was the flag that the us Olympic team carried forward and look, you and I are going to continue having these conversations about these topics here on the game plan. And I'm just grateful that I get to have this every week with you. So thank you so much, Tim.
And I look forward to seeing you on the next one.