Rugby Sevens League Test Drives a New Ownership Model: Leasing

Many professional sports leagues have started as single-entity operations, in which all teams are owned by the league. It’s the model Major League Soccer and the WNBA first used when getting off the ground in the ’90s and one more recent upstarts, such as the Premier Lacrosse League, National Women’s Hockey League (now the Premier Hockey Federation) and even Major League Rugby have chosen as well. Now they’re joined by Premier Rugby Sevens, the North American rugby sevens league that debuted last fall, which is trying to find new ways to preserve that structure while still bringing in ownership-like investment money.

PR7s, as it’s called, is a single-entity league currently composed of four franchises, each with an equally-paid men’s and women’s team. In order to keep that structure, PR7s is bringing on Rhinos Rugby, a California-based training program and academy (which also supports a professional rugby tens team), as a licensee to manage the on-field operations for its Loggerheads franchise—without actually giving up any ownership of the club.

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The three-year licensing deal includes the rights to select the Loggerheads’ coaches and manage rosters as well as ownership perks like onsite hospitality, but the organization won’t be involved in any logistical operations or receive any equity in the league. Ownership isn’t something PR7s founder and CEO Owen Scannell is ready to give up.

“We’ve never really entertained the idea of selling teams [or] selling stakes in teams,” Scannell said in an interview. “There’s a lot of benefit for the company to have that true single entity nature to it, from consolidation of the commercial rights to the decision-making process—it all gives us flexibility and mobility to create a long-term, sustainable and viable rugby sevens competition. We love the idea of being able to bring in partners like Rhinos in a more engaged capacity while also staying consistent with what we think is the most commercially sound way of trying to build a rugby competition company in North America.”

The league declined to disclose financial terms of the deal, but payments will be spread out over each of the three years. PR7s also emphasized the deal is a sizable source of revenue, and while the remaining three franchises will be managed by league-appointed coaching pending other licensing arrangements, Scannell isn’t in any rush to fill those slots.

For Rhinos Rugby, the investment may take longer to bear fruit. The organization will instead use the partnership to generate buzz for its programs and the sport more broadly by showcasing a clear pathway to the professional ranks—an amplified marketing deal, if you will. The payoff “is exposure,” Andreea Trufasu, Rhinos Rugby co-founder and CEO, said in an interview.

“Exposure for rugby as a sport, for [our] pathways and values, for the excitement and entertainment part of the sport,” Trufasu said. “When we talked to Owen and the team, we said, ‘OK, we don’t just want to invest money [for] marketing purposes. We’d like to make this an exit for our boys and girls, for our men and women that we develop and have developed. Unless there is a complete pathway in sport, parents and kids are not going to invest the time and money that sport requires.”

PR7s will launch in San Jose in July, with festival-style weekends in both D.C. and Austin to follow, all broadcast by Fubo Sports Network. Alongside Rhinos Rugby, PR7s will try to gin up increasing interest in the sport over the next several years, particularly ahead of the 2028 Olympics coming to Los Angeles (rugby sevens is an Olympic sport) and the U.S. hosting the 2031 and 2033 Rugby World Cups.

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