A Major League Rugby board member has hailed the bankruptcy of USA Rugby as a positive step forward for the growth of the sport in America – and for the country’s 2031 World Cup bid. 


The Chapter 11 bankruptcy declaration last Monday by the American union sent shockwaves around the rugby world about the precariousness of the business of rugby in challenging times worsened by the economic ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic. 

However, James Kennedy, the majority owner of MLR club Rugby United New York, claimed the writing was on the wall for a very long time for the Colorado-based organisation. 

“It should have happened at least a year ago, if not two years ago when Dan Payne was leaving,” said Kennedy to RugbyPass. Payne quit as USA Rugby’s CEO in April 2018 for a similar role at Rugby Americas, the governing body for 23 national unions in that area.

“They were always fighting a rearguard action. There is plenty of me on the record on this, so it’s not Monday Morning Quarterback. Bankruptcy is what they needed to do. 

“It was no individual’s fault, as there was chopping and changing personnel. It was a system that was just built to fail in a weird way. It was chronically underfunded and because it was underfunded it wasn’t able to get the money it needed. 

“If they got their membership policies right they would be the wealthiest union in the world, but they couldn’t even do that because they didn’t have the money or the resources.


“This needed to happen. I feel bad for vendors that are owed money, but to say the bankruptcy is because of Covid is a bit disingenuous.

“It’s no secret that US Rugby have been financially f***** for years. They overspent at the last World Cup (in Japan) and they messed up at the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco.

“They forget to factor in the cost of hotel rooms. Not just the price, they forgot to negotiate with the hotels before they were awarded the World Cup. 

“They were awarded the World Cup and then went to the hotels. The hotels were, ‘Well you’re coming here anyway, we’re not giving you a deal’. Stuff like that year on year crippled it. 


“Bankruptcy will just clean that up and it will make the (2031) World Cup bid process easier. I don’t want to say any names, but the void will be filled with competent people and competent organisation.”

USA Rugby’s demise should also offer Major League Rugby – a completely separate entity – the perfect opportunity to accelerate the growth it has enjoyed since its inaugural season in 2018. 

Kennedy has already been talking to local districts that had been operating under the wing of USA Rugby and the hope is they will now row in behind the MLR in the same way the NBA, basketball’s professional league, wields so much influence on that sport in America. 

“The US is broken into a raft of unions. The New York union is New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, which is called Empire Geographical Union. I will be talking to them about absorbing them for a while, taking over their membership and how we set it up. DC are trying to do the same down with their union. San Diego the same. 

“It’s a natural progression. If we rule our provinces we are fully motivated to expand the game, grow the game, gets fans at clubs, at colleges, at high schools, in our women’s programmes… it’s in all our financial interest to do that and then what I would see is a feeder model. 

“Take USA Basketball (USAB): they have men’s and women’s teams in the Olympics and various World Cups etc, but it’s a five-person office in Colorado because the NBA and the NCAA does everything.

“These (USAB) people just book a few flights every now and then because the grassroots is done by the NBA and the colleges. The country is too big for an organisation (similar to USA Rugby) to do something like that.

“It [USA Rugby’s bankruptcy] is a good thing. I say that with respect to people that have lost their jobs, people that are not getting paid, but it’s a good thing for rugby in the US ultimately. 

“If it cleans up the World Cup bid which is going on right now… anything without US Rugby involved is a better situation than having them at the table where they swear they are good when everybody knows they are not good. This is a good opportunity. 

“It will be a good chance for MLR to get out in the press and explain to the rugby public and the non-rugby public that US Rugby and MLR are separate entities and always have been for exactly this reason.

“We are the ones expanding the game. Like, we were launching a women’s professional team this year which we have now put off until next year. It’s all pretty good stuff basically.”

WATCH: Ben Foden chats to Jim Hamilton in the latest episode of The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series

Video Spacer

Mailing List

Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.

Sign Up Now