Dallas Jackals: Expanding the Legacy & Trying to Grow a Sports Franchise

Dallas Jackals: Expanding the Legacy & Trying to Grow a Sports Franchise

Photo by Sam Schacher

Dallas Jackals: Expanding the Legacy & Trying to Grow a Sports Franchise

I’ve been to over 1,000 professional or college sports events in my life. Among them are the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the first ever College Football Playoff Championship game, the Stanley Cup finals, and the men’s Final Four Championship game.  I went to the Daytona 500, the one and only time that Dale Earnhardt won the race. In addition, I’ve been to multiple MLB playoffs and World Series games.  However, I had never attended a professional rugby game.  That changed when I attended the Dallas Jackals home opener this season in early March.

The Jackals are one of 12 teams participating in Major League Rugby  (MLR).  Entering its seventh season, MLR is a professional sports league representing the highest rugby competition in North America. The league has evolved from seven teams in 2018 to 12 teams for the 2024 season.

For those not familiar with rugby, it combines elements of multiple, more familiar sports, such as football, basketball, hockey, and soccer.   For instance, a “scrum” is like a face-off in hockey, only with more people.  A “line-out” is like a jump ball in basketball, again with more people.  And a “try” is like a touchdown in football.

It was a nice, sunny pre-spring day and I was invited to sit in the owner’s suite where I had the opportunity to visit with the team COO Rodd Newhouse. If the last name sounds familiar, it should.  Rodd’s father Robert Newhouse had a 12-year NFL career as a running back for the Dallas Cowboys from 1972-1983.  Robert finished his career with nearly 4,800 rushing yards, good enough for 169th all-time in NFL history.

However, Rodd is his own man, creating his own path.  He chronicles this journey in The Rodd Newhouse Story: Expanding a Legacy. A Memoir, which is available on Amazon.  As I visited with him, we discussed a variety of topics, and I discovered how he progressed from his college playing days at Rice to becoming COO of a professional rugby team.

Editor’s note: Newhouse’s answers have been lightly edited, or paraphrased, for clarity and brevity.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your background. How did you get from playing RB at Rice in the mid 90’s to here?

Newhouse: Oh, that’s a quick story. I wanted to play in the NFL and wound up signing with the Baltimore Ravens in 1998. That didn’t work out. So, I wound up going into the front offices of the National Football League.  I worked at NFL headquarters for about a year, then I landed a job with the Arizona Cardinals. I was with the Cardinals for seven years and after that ended, I wondered what I could be. I could be the guy that bounces around from team to team, or I can just go ahead and start my career from here. During that time, I got my real estate license, and I also earned my law degree from Concord Law School. I then worked for several years with Wells Fargo as a financial adviser which led to my current wealth management career. Fast forward to 2020 and the Jackals are announced as an expansion team, and I was asked to be part of the ownership group.

Q: Did you know anything about rugby?

Newhouse: The amount that I knew about rugby is I grew up in this neighborhood in the Lake Highlands (Dallas) area and at the at the bottom of the hill they used to play rugby in this park. I didn’t know what it was, but I was playing soccer, and my dad was playing football – it’s almost a hybrid between those two sports. It was fast-paced, and I thought, this is pretty cool.

Q: Is there a need for a professional rugby league?

Newhouse: There’s definitely an appetite for it because the media spectrum is always looking for content. We think that rugby can grow to be like soccer here.  Worldwide, soccer is huge, but it’s only since the World Cup was here in 1994 that soccer took off here.

Q: Is there something coming up that’s going to be that catalyst for rugby?

Newhouse: Yes, something is coming up.  In 2031 the Rugby World Cup will be played in the United States.  I just saw a recent publication that said the Rugby World Cup was the 11th most-watched sports event in the world.  The Soccer FIFA World Cup was number one of course, next was the Tour de France.  The Super Bowl was number eight I believe, and the NBA Finals were 10. So, the Rugby World Cup was ahead of the World Series, the Final Four, the Masters, and the Kentucky Derby.

Q: What’s it like working with Neil Leibman?

(Leibman is co-owner of the Texas Rangers MLB team and through his sports investment fund Top Tier Sports is the majority owner of the Jackals)

Newhouse: He’s been absolutely great. I mean, he and Ray (Davis – majority owner of the Rangers) have been phenomenal in allowing us to do what we do on this side of the street – (the Jackals play in the old Texas Rangers stadium across the street from their new stadium).  My acumen is dealing with the ownership level and understanding the direction of where the league is going on behalf of the team. We’ve assembled a great staff here that has done a lot to steer things in the right direction and that’s what I’m most excited about. We didn’t win a game in our first season.  So, to win our season opener this year on the road and be in first place to start this season…hey, I’m going to relish it for all of us. We’ve started a different culture around here. We set a new standard of what we want to be and who we’re going to be. So, finding our identity on the field as well as finding our identity in the community has been great.

Q: I read somewhere that you don’t take a salary for your COO role. Is that true and if so, why?

Newhouse: Correct, that is true. Because, quite candidly, this is my way of showing that I’m truly dedicated. I’m committed.  Because I put money into the team and don’t take a salary it allows us to spread out some monies a little bit further. So, we can look to be profitable, so we can hire another person to do more work. And if we can scale and do more work at the bottom end of it, then that helps all of us grow. I want to show my partners, I want to show the employees, I want to show all these people that I’m putting in everything.  We’re just trying to make sure people understand that this is a bootstrap league here, you know this isn’t the NFL.

Q:  I also read that your day job is as a sports agent or that you work with a sports management group.

Newhouse:  I’m not a sports agent, I’m a financial advisor by trade. My day-to-day job is in the wealth management space, and I represent several athletes and entertainers.  I help them out with their wealth management. Just being a different resource for them.

Q: Getting back to the Jackals franchise, is the team profitable yet?

Newhouse: No. The league is still in its infancy stage so you can’t say that really any team is profitable just yet. So, just like any startup or any other professional organization, they’re going to run a deficit for a minute, but we have really turned the corner in terms of reducing that loss.

Q: We both know that TV plays a huge role here. Is there a TV contract for MLR?

Newhouse:  We do have a TV deal in place with the Rugby Network that streams all our games. We also have some television in place with Fox.  We play our championship game August 4th on Fox, and we also have some weekly games that will be shown on FS1 and FS2.  We’re doing everything possible to get the team, and the league, in a good spot where the players can make a good living playing professional rugby. So, we are working on things for our players to promote their health, wellness and safety and television is really what it’s going to take.   That’s where the money, the big money, comes from. A lot of the media and marketing (for television) is where we really focus our efforts and as soon as we can get that done then it just kind of flows downhill.

Q: Is there a salary cap for the teams?

Newhouse: There’s a salary cap, but it’s not a hard cap.  Every team has a cap in terms of they can’t spend more than the other teams. After the season is over most players probably find other employment or go back to their home country and maybe play in a different league.

Q: If you remember, NFL players in the 70’s and 80’s had offseason jobs as their NFL salary alone didn’t cut it. That’s why Roger Staubach (Dallas Cowboys Hall-of-Famer) started his real estate career in the 70’s.

Newhouse: Yes, there are some similarities to how the NFL started, which is kind of how rugby started. And that’s a good parallel because if people can understand that the NFL started like that and see where it is today. That’s what gives me the promise and hope that rugby could start out like that and grow into what the NFL has become.

Q:  Completely off-topic question here – have you ever tailgated at a game?

Newhouse: Funny story about tailgating. Five or six years ago some friends invited me to go tailgating with them. I said sure, why not. We wound up going to a University of Washington and University of Iowa football game. It was a surreal experience. I’d never done it because I was always playing. I didn’t know what tailgating was and what it meant to walk through the parking lot of the stadium with thousands of fans grilling and partying. You’re like, this is what they do. It is very interesting, in a good way, because this is an all-day event that’s very fun.

Q: What do you do in your spare time, what are some of your hobbies?

Newhouse:  I like to run. I do a lot of half marathons. I don’t mean to be cliche, but I enjoy spending time with my family and going to church. I’ve been married 18 years, and my daughters are in high school now. I just enjoy watching them compete and do the things that they do.

Q: Where do you see Major League rugby, and the Dallas Jackals, in five years?

Newhouse: Major League Rugby will be getting ready to promote more about the Rugby World Cup coming to the United States. I think the league will really be talked about then. As for the Jackals, I do see the growth starting to pick up as we start to win. We get some television deals and some of this is macroeconomics in play. So once the macroeconomics of the world kind of settle down I think we can start to see the growth of the sport.  With interest rates being high right now and all those different factors that really are significant to someone investing in rugby it’s stagnant right now. My goal is to see 10,000 people in the stands within five years.  We would love to play in a more intimate stadium. We’ve been talking about some things behind the scenes where hopefully we can get that done. We love playing here, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just that it’s cavernous.  There are just some behind the scenes people that have been instrumental in getting us to where we are and without them, we wouldn’t be there.  Along with my partners at the Texas Rangers, I can’t thank my Co-Managing Partner, John Dwyer enough for all his hard work and the team he has assembled to help lift this franchise in the right direction.

Q: Any obvious question that you can’t believe I haven’t asked but should?

Newhouse: No. I just want to make sure that people know and understand that without these players and coaches, and without the support of our fans, none of this is possible. I know it sounds cliché, but it is true. Without the support of the community, none of this works. These players have done a phenomenal job and we’re doing our best to support them.