Rugby On The Silicon Slopes
This article was published in the Tech Summit 2020 issue
People don’t just ski on the slopes of Utah, they also play rugby. Rugby is one of the largest sports in the world and is growing at unprecedented levels in America. While the growth in the USA has outpaced soccer, football, baseball, and other sports, rugby has been a part of Utah’s Silicon Slopes with generations of fans and players being involved with the sport for decades, dating back to the 19th century.
With historical powerhouses like Highland High School, BYU, Utah, and multiple International and Olympic rugby stars hailing from Utah, it's fair to say that the Silicon Slopes’ backyard has been a breeding ground for the sport and its many star players locally, nationally, and internationally.
Many of Utah’s top tech leaders claim rugby as part of their sports background:
- Wade Sherman, VP & Dept. General Counsel at Adobe
- Cameron Jensen, President of Savi Solutions
- Mike Herring, Former CFO of Ancestry
- Ralph Yarro, Founder of Atua Ventures
- Kyle Ford, CEO of Arbiter Sports
- Chuck Elias, CEO of 42Chat
- Shane Johnson, Founder & CEO of LiftIQ
BUILDING THE EPICENTER
Utah Warriors CEO/GM Kimball Kjar has built upon his vision from day one which is to make the Warriors, and Utah, the epicenter of rugby for North America.
“We have something special here in Utah,” Kjar said. “Rugby is a part of who we are and there are so many synergies that the sport has to our business, technology, and civic communities that the opportunities to do something special are pretty exciting to think about.”
As with any new venture, the long term goal is sustainability and vital to Kjar’s vision is building Utah’s next tech-enabled sports and entertainment venue.
“You won’t see the Warriors being able to sustain themselves without a home,” Kjar said. “It’s our goal and plan to build our own stadium that will be a rallying place not only for Warriors Nation but for the entire community and all sports. Using some of the world’s most progressive technologies, it’s our goal to change how people experience professional sports and other events.”
The Warriors’ long term plans for a hub of rugby and other sports and entertainment events will see Utah Silicon Slopes with a venue able to host some of the world’s top concerts, special events, sports events, and other community programming that will use technology as the centerpiece for the fans’ experience.
“Technology is breaking down the barriers for fans’ experiences at stadiums,” Kjar said. “Where only multi-billion dollar facilities used to be able to provide new, innovative, and intimate experiences, we can now do the same for our community for far less and at the size of venue that serves this community long term.”
Kjar said plans for the Utah Warriors stadium are progressing with announcements expected soon.
The Warriors took full advantage of the 2019 offseason with a new campaign of “Locked and Reloaded.” The front office made waves in the rugby community by signing Australian Wallabies’ legend Chris Latham as the team’s new head coach for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Latham will also be supported by a new line of assistant coaches and operations staff including individuals that have ties to Utah.
The initial 33-man roster was set as the next step of the offseason. With over 9 countries represented and 14 Utahns included, the Warriors are looking to become the elite of the 2020 season. The roster is comprised of individuals that hold many different levels of experience, from college rugby to international duties with their respective countries.
America’s fastest-growing game also means Americans are becoming fans of the game at higher rates. The Warriors are in the MLR’s top three in average attendance and boast the MLR record attendance of 9,186 set on March 30, 2018, in the Warriors first-ever match. And first-time watchers of Warriors home games quickly become some of the team’s biggest fans and season ticket holders.
PROFESSIONAL RUGBY IN NORTH AMERICA
The United States is commonly referred to as “The Sleeping Giant of Rugby.” The sport of rugby is sweeping the nation. Nearly 124,000 members are currently registered with USA Rugby ranging from youth to senior level. With so much interest and excitement brewing around the sport, one thing was clearly missing: professional competition. Major League Rugby (MLR) made its debut in 2018. The core goal of the league was simple, to grow the game in every way possible. The MLR was created as the highest level of American rugby for aspiring rugby players to reach for, along with pathways set in place to assist players in reaching that goal. The MLR was also created to unite new and veteran fans of the sport as one large family.
The MLR continues to grow year after year from its beginnings in 2018. The league is already capturing the attention of those near and far, with the signings of iconic international names such as New Zealand All Blacks legend Ma’a Nonu and South African 2019 Rugby World Cup Champion Tendai Mtawarira. The MLR continues to be represented in some of the largest media markets in the United States and Canada, and is expanding from 9 teams in 2019 to 12 in 2020.
“My first time at a Warriors game, I didn’t know what was going on,” said current season ticket holder Ryan Garrett. “But we loved it! And we soon bought season tickets and love coming to every home game!”
The Warriors fan base also is one of the most uniquely situated and committed from a marketing perspective. The Utah Warriors social media channels boast 60% average engagement and indexes higher than all other professional sports leagues in the categories of Families, Millennials, Academics, and Affluence.
Remaining true to the four core values of the Warriors is something that is important to everyone. From players to operational staff, the four values of “Community. Family. Tradition. Respect.” is important not only for the success of the MLR, but for the success of the team and fans that support the Warriors. The team prides itself on giving back to the community, whether that is holding rugby camps for the youth, visiting hospital patients, or hosting touch rugby leagues. You will always find an enthusiastic member of the Warriors’ organization who is eager to give back to the community that helps shape the future of rugby in Utah.
For more information on the Utah Warriors go to WarriorsRugby.com or follow the team on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Read the rest of the articles in the Tech Summit 2020 issue of Silicon Slopes Magazine