Major League Rugby | Commissioner


Major League Rugby (“MLR” or the “League”) is the highest level of North American rugby.

Rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States and Canada and one of the most popular sports in the world. Rugby’s domestic growth and wide-reaching global fan base combine to create a unique environment for a professional league in the North American market. The US and Canadian rugby stories are uniquely North American, from how the game spread from the Northeast across the frontier regions to the West Coast, to an underdog US Olympic title, to being championed by thousands of local men’s, women’s and youth clubs across the continent today. Major League Rugby will build on the North American rugby story by uniting these fans under a common banner as rugby enters the North American sports mainstream.

MLR is reinvigorating the North American rugby development pathway. By creating outreach programs to bring new players to the game and high-performance pathways to keep the best athletes in the sport, MLR is creating a competitive environment to push the North American game to the next level. Growing the game of rugby at all levels is at the core of the MLR model. Although it is a fast-paced, full-contact sport, rugby is by nature a safer alternative to other contact sports like American Football. Often falsely branded as “football without pads,” rugby in fact emphasizes possession rather than a fight for inches, and as a result the deliberate head impacts so common to blocking and tackling in football simply do not exist in rugby. Studies have demonstrated that rugby tackling techniques are safer than football, and American football coaches have begun to adapt rugby tackling techniques in the interest of player safety. Rugby therefore offers a safer option for youth development through sport. 

MLR will create local destinations where rugby fans can come together to celebrate the highest levels of the North American game. Venues hosting MLR events will be gathering places for rugby fans and local communities to come together around the game. MLR aspires to create a unique, thrilling, innovative at-event experience for fans, marketing partners, media and all stakeholders.

By connecting the national to the local, MLR will invite all of the US and Canada to join the unique, vibrant rugby family. MLR will feature current internationals and all-stars from top rugby nations. Professionals from around the world will join the best domestic players in professional rugby competitions that will showcase the best that North American rugby has to offer. MLR seeks to generate deep fan interest, engagement & passion for the sport, the league, the teams, players and the unique experience that is rugby.

As of the issuance of this document, MLR consists of fourteen member organizations, each of which represents a specific US or Canadian market and has either already fielded a team in the 2019 MLR season or is committed to do so in 2020 or 2021. MLR games are currently carried via a national contract with CBS Sports and via regional contracts with regional sports networks in each member’s market, as well as online distribution via ESPN+.

MLR is an initiative driven by private investors who believe that North American rugby can thrive at the highest levels: as a commercial business; as an influential player on the international scene; and as a supporter of the sport at the youth and senior levels.

Any interested candidates should contact Turnkey Search directly. Contacting Major League Rugby will only delay consideration of your qualifications. 

Position Summary

The Commissioner will serve as the primary champion, cheerleader, passionate promoter and strident advocate for MLR, i.e. the external face of MLR and North American rugby, as well as business leader of the management team for MLR (the League) and MLR clubs (the teams). S/he will report directly to the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors (“BoG”), which is in turn comprised of the representatives of the member clubs of the League. The Commissioner is ultimately accountable for driving the League’s vision, for development and implementation of the growth of MLR, for stewardship of the League’s business and brand, and for creating and growing key relationships with internal and external stakeholders that will drive the success and future growth of MLR.

The Commissioner will provide executive leadership of MLR through long-term strategic initiatives, negotiation and delivery on key commercial and rugby imperatives, and the overall management of an effective and efficient organization that exceeds the expectations of the BoG and the member organizations it represents. The Commissioner shall be a visionary, but even more importantly, be a real “closer” who can not only dream big, but also make things happen and bring deals to fruition. The Commissioner shall be THE revenue-oriented sales machine in the League and the sport.

Duties and Responsibilities

Commercial Performance

  • Oversee the development and implementation of a revenue strategy that engages the League’s partners, sponsors and fans to drive revenue and increase brand awareness in an effort to drive commercial growth;

  • Lead the League’s commercial efforts to drive all revenue-related activity, including sponsorship, ticketing, merchandise and licensing/consumer products, and broadcast partnerships to achieve the League’s revenue goals;

  • Develop, implement and lead corporate sponsorship, strategic plans for achieving annual and long-term revenue and profitability growth targets;

  • Maintain focus on maximizing profitability and creating new revenue opportunities that lead to tangible economic value creation;

  • Develop pricing strategies, platforms, programming, and inventory customized for current and potential partners and delivered through solution-selling methodologies and procedures;

  • Lead the commercial team in the sourcing, cultivating, negotiating and closing of corporate sponsor and media partnerships; promote a culture of high performance and continuous improvement that values learning and a commitment to quality;

  • Serve as the strategist and consultant to each member club in the development of overall commercial and revenue strategy at the consumer and local level, guiding member clubs in maximizing attendance and ticket sales, addressing ticket pricing, packaging and sales strategies, and in driving pro-active sales performance to meet ticket sales goals;

  • Lead the League’s efforts to negotiate media contracts with national broadcasters, OTT, social media channels or other online distributors, and support of member clubs in negotiating relationships with regional sports networks and via social media outlets;

  • Explore, devise, analyse and present business and broadcast options, including innovations in new media, in terms of geographic and channel content distribution, and options for digital content delivery both of VOD & live streaming options;

  • Drive the further development of the merchandising strategy at the League and club level, including, but not limited to, the development of partner/vendor relationships, exploration and/or identification of e-commerce opportunities and licensing/consumer product revenue maximization; and

  • Identify and develop new revenue streams to enhance the commercial growth of the League, including keeping pace with industry advances such as digital media and legalized sports gambling.

Marketing and Communications

  • Develop the brand positioning and messaging on behalf of the League and serve as the primary storyteller for the organization with all external stakeholders including, but not limited to local and national media, corporate partners, broadcast partners, vendors and the fan base;

  • Execute brand and retail/revenue-driving marketing strategies that measurably achieve revenue, attendance and audience targets, and maximize profit margins and the league- and club-level while building collaborative, integrated consumer and brand marketing standards;

  • Clearly and persuasively extend the brand messaging to the Club level, assisting in the development of customized storytelling at the local level that continues to remain consistent with MLR positioning; and

  • Curate the League’s storytelling engine through creative and engaging content creation and communications strategies to consistently amplify the presence of the League nationally and locally.

Strategic Planning, Business Plan Development and Execution

  • Assist the Executive Committee in the development of the strategic direction of MLR, addressing key issues such as revenue growth and optimization, the League’s brand identity and image; financial performance; growth and expansion; and relationships with such stakeholders as USA Rugby and Rugby Canada, the NCAA, and club rugby organizations at all levels through the USA and Canada, as well as World Rugby and the international rugby community.

  • Facilitate the work of the Executive Committee in crafting a Strategic Plan, addressing: Mission, Vision and Aspirations; Core Values; Objectives, Strategies and operational Tactics; Metrics and Performance/KPI Tracking;

  • In partnership with select Committees, assume responsibility for definition and execution of MLR’s Business encompassing financial projections and marketing, operational and staffing plans; and

  • Ensure that all the legal, statutory and contractual requirements of the League are met.

Organizational Capability, Leadership and Values

  • Promote and foster an organizational and league-wide culture emphasizing the values of Rugby, including the performance of the team (or the League) above that of the individual (or member); commitment, hard work & resilience; honesty & integrity; innovation, achievement and commitment to business objectives; a diverse and highly inclusive workplace not only at the League level, but across the League’s oversight including partners, event staff, vendors and, most importantly, customers and fans;

  • Structure and build a highly effective and efficient organizational structure including attracting and retaining best-in-class employees and partners across all departments;

  • Build and motivate a high performing team through effective communication, performance management, and coaching; and

  • Display outstanding leadership values in managing and promoting MLR.

Competition, Governance and Stakeholder Management

  • Oversee the development and implementation of a competition strategy that will optimize MLR’s showcasing and delivery of the highest quality of rugby possible in North America;

  • Lead the League staff’s operations and competition staff to ensure high quality, fair and balanced competition is maintained, including:

    • Player allocation, contracting, compensation, and welfare policies;

    • Refereeing, rule review & development, and enforcement;

    • Adjudication of disputes (including team penalties where required)

  • At all times, maintain open and clear communications with all members of the BoG and ensure responsiveness to BoG by League staff; build and maintain an effective working relationship with BoG Chairman and the Executive Committee;

  • Liaise frequently with MLR’s member organizations to ensure member compliance with league protocols and practices and to solicit members’ input to the League’s operations;

  • Liaise as necessary with USA Rugby, Rugby Canada, the NCAA, and World Rugby (among others) to strive for consistency in the movements toward our common goals for the promotion of Rugby in North America; and

  • Lead the League staff’s commercial team in ensuring the delivery of value to the League’s corporate partners, media partners, vendors and others.

Qualifications and Skills

  • Minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in business, sports management, marketing, communications, or related field;

  • Minimum fifteen years full-time experience in management of a sports organization or related field. Familiarity with the sport and business of rugby, both in the U.S. and internationally, preferred;

  • If not a U.S. citizen, it is essential that a valid work visa be obtained;

  • Proven experience and success as a Chief Executive Officer or at senior management level;

  • Extensive experience within revenue-driving executive leadership including sponsorship revenue generation, media rights negotiation and senior level management of commercial partner relationships;

  • An understanding of new media platforms, digital content and online streaming trends;

  • Previous experience within the entertainment and media industry would be highly regarded;

  • Successful track record in leading and growing an organization.

Core Competencies

  • Competitive edge, with strong commercial capability;

  • Ability to work independently with minimum supervision;

  • Ability to successfully manage multiple large-scale projects and numerous high-level commercial relationships simultaneously;

  • Ability to be productive and innovate in a fast-paced, multi-dimensional work environment;

  • Excellent group facilitation and decision-making skills;

  • Excellent organizational and leadership skills;

  • Passion for, knowledge of and / or a strong empathy for the game of Rugby;

  • Ability to develop a positive culture;

  • Ability to work with diverse stakeholders and build successful win/win working relationships;

  • Willingness to take ownership and be held accountable;

  • A willingness to challenge and be challenged, able to listen;

  • Strategic capability, able to think outside the box;

  • Strong written and verbal communication skills and the ability to communicate effectively with the public, partners and league members; and

  • Ability to deal with a high level of public scrutiny.