Managerment Team Assembled for New Pro Sevens Competition

Ted HardyContributor IMarch 12, 2017

It’s not normal for me to write a follow up piece so soon after the original article posted. But, news is pretty thin this time of year and this wasn’t a normal article for me.

My interview last week with William Tatham Jr. regarding the launch of a World Professional Sevens competition (being called the Grand Prix Rugby World Series) immediately grabbed the attention and opinions of rugby fans across the globe.

Within just a few days of hitting the internet the article became the most read article I have written in my two years of covering rugby passing the others as if they were standing still.

The really amazing part, and something of significance, is how far across the rugby playing world the article reached. A visit to my website  from foreign readers isn’t anything new, but the number and diversity of those visitors was like nothing I’ve ever seen before on my sites. At one point, overseas readers were outnumbering the American readers.

Link-backs to the article were found on dozens of websites across the globe as well as nested in multiple message boards. Some of which had deep discussions regarding the subject matter. To say that it is an interesting topic of conversation is putting it lightly.

Adding to my incentive to follow up on the article, a couple days after publishing I was sent, by an anonymous source, further information regarding the World Competition. This new information shed a bit more light on the project.

As the information was in the form of marketing material meant for investors, the insight steered towards that end of the equation and less on the playing format. Hopefully further details on the playing format will surface in the coming weeks.  

There’s a fair amount of info to cover, so I’m going to break it up into parts for easier digestion.

Part one focuses on the most important part of the entire process. The management team that has been put together is the No. 1 reason that I think this may actually happen. Well… let’s call it a tie between this and the fact that the Olympic push will pull in the investors and interest needed to make it viable.

Without a sound management team, there is no way for success. Note the struggles that USA Rugby has had over the years with management and coaching turnovers. William Tatham Jr. has pieced together an impressive list of men to steer his venture and now we can take a closer look at the group.

William Tatham Jr. serves as the Chairman and CEO of the group. His background was covered in the last piece. For those that missed it… why did you miss it? Just kidding, in all seriousness, Tatham has been involved at the General Management and Ownership levels in the NBA, USFL, and WFL.

Joining him is Ed Desser who was a senior executive in the NBA Commissioner’s Office for 23 years, serving as Director of Broadcasting, Executive Producer, VP/GM NBA Entertainment, VP/International Television, EVP Strategic Planning and Business Development, and as President, NBA Television, Strategic Initiatives, and New Media.

Responsible for more than $10 billion in rights deals, Desser spearheaded the exploration of many emerging new media technologies, including High Definition TV, Direct Broadcast Satellite,, NBA League Pass, NBA TV, and Satellite Radio.

Some of the deals that Ed led included those with NBC Sports, ABC/ESPN/Turner Sports/TNT, and Sirius Radio. These deals led to a twelve-fold increase in revenue and substantially increased distribution.

“Ed Desser has been at the center of every major media deal this league has made for more than two decades. His vision, knowledge, and skill have been indispensable,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern.

Desser is assisting Tatham in directing their executive team.

Here’s a look at the executive team.

Bob Finkel will serve as the CFO of the group. Finkel comes in with a background in broadcast media having worked for CBS and World Wrestling Entertainment. He has been touted for some of his work in developing satellite delivered networks based on High Definition technologies.

Give me a second to digress as I pronounce my love for HD sports and particularly rugby in HD. OK, I’m better now.

Bruce Skinner serves as the COO and President of the NCRA. Skinner could be the subject of his very own article (and just may be at some point). Bruce Skinner is a highly regarded consultant to business and the special events industry. He served as the executive director of the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona, (1980-1990) and President of the International Festivals and Events Association (1990-2001).

He is the author of the book, The Complete Guide to Selling Event Sponsorship and is one of the founders of the PF Chang’s Arizona Rock n Roll Marathon in Phoenix, Arizona. In Port Angeles, Washington, he is executive director of the Olympic Medical Center Foundation.

During his 17-year tenure with the Fiesta Bowl (he served as Assistant Executive Director from 1973-1980, the event grew into a 60-event festival, nationally televised parade and football classic, and became the first bowl game to sign a title sponsor.

It is uncertain how the NCRA or National Collegiate Rugby Association will fit into the current stand-off between USA Rugby and the upstart US College Rugby Association. What is known is that Tatham’s group owns the rights to broadcast of sevens in the United States, including college sevens. The NCRA seemingly would act as the organizational body for a Collegiate Sevens competition.

As I said, this subject has enough juice to spawn its own article and then some.  

Nigel Melville, current CEO of USA Rugby, serves as a Director on the team due to his involvement with USA Rugby and the close ties that the two groups now have through their licensing agreements.

Gary Marenzi serves as a Director and comes to the group from MGM Entertainment where he served as co-president of Worldwide Television.

It is easy to see how Marenzi fits into the plans for the Grand Prix Rugby World Series. He also served as president of Paramount International Television from 1997-2004, where he oversaw the multi-billion dollar distribution of Paramount feature films and television programming to broadcasters and channels outside of the United States.

He supervised the development and production of television programming customized for the international marketplace and the co-production and co-financing of television programming with international partners.

During his tenure, Marenzi also forged key long-term relationships with such major clients as ProSieben/Sat1 (Germany), M6 (France), RAI (Italy), BSkyB (UK), Ten Network (Australia), SBS (Scandinavia/Benelux) and Global (Canada).

Pat Guthrie is the CRO and President of the American RFL. While their focus is now on launching the Grand Prix World Series, the American RFL is the second phase of their operation and will be a completely American based sevens competition. Co-author of the book “Rugby for Dummies” Guthrie is also the Director of Rugby for Mediazone, an on-line rugby broadcasting network.

Do you see a pattern forming yet? If I were to ask you… what is the key ingredient for any successful professional sports venture, what would you say? No, the answer is not cheerleaders… although they are very nice. If you said broadcasting, you are correct. Here’s the formula.

Broadcasting = Exposure = Fans = Advertising = $$$$$$$$

Ray Harmon is yet another director coming to the group with a background in broadcasting. Harmon was the VP of Business planning for CBS before going on to create his own Broadcast Media Company. Harmon worked on the Winter Olympic Games during his tenure at CBS.

Mike Keller serves as VP of Operations and comes in with an impressive resume of his own that includes 35 years in sports management and consulting. Keller has specialized in league and franchise operation and development including personnel development, staffing, organizational structuring, media, sponsorship, funding and critical path definition.

He has been part of operations in the NFL, USFL, NFL Europe, XFL, and now Grand Prix Rugby and the American RFL. On the playing side of the ball, Keller was an All-American linebacker at The University of Michigan.

That about covers the management team for today. As you can see, the men involved at the ground level all bring their own unique and impressive gifts to the table. At the base of every successful operation is a sound management group that is unlike any other ever assembled in rugby.

I’ll be back in a few days with Part Two: The Competition

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