MLR taps Killebrew as new commissioner
Longtime Dallas Mavericks executive George Killebrew will become the next commissioner of Major League Rugby, which will launch its third season in February.
Killebrew replaces founding commissioner Dean Howes, whom the 14-member MLR board of governors ousted after the season ended this summer in pursuit of a more aggressive commercial strategist. Killebrew served as executive vice president for the Mavericks for more than 27 years, including the past few years in which a sprawling sexual harassment scandal led to the appointment of Cynthia Marshall as a turnaround CEO. Killebrew was not implicated in the scandal, but left his day-to-day role with the club for an advisory position with owner Mark Cuban’s other interests in January.
MLR and its search consultants, Turnkey Search, say they vetted him thoroughly and found no reason not to hire him.
The league is facing a critical moment. Many of the club operators, who collectively own the single entity, want faster growth. They’re prepared to invest heavily to make that happen and hope Killebrew can lead the way.
“George was head and shoulders above [other candidates],” said Errik Anderson, chairman of the board of governors and principal owner of the New England Free Jacks. “He’s got a good blend of long-term strategic thinking, but understanding how that connects to a business plan in year three of our league.”
Killebrew, 56, only entered the process in October, after Turnkey had identified three finalists. Turnkey Managing Director Rick Alessandri said the job requires someone with expertise in both local revenue generation and high-level corporate relationships.
“I’ve just been looking for something a little bit more entrepreneurial,” Killebrew said. “It reminds me of the early days of Major League Soccer — internationally loved, but not widely accepted in North America.”
He asked Cuban for his input. “Mark said, ‘Rugby is great, but that’s a hard job,’” Killebrew said.
Top priorities for Killebrew will be to drive up local revenue for the clubs, which has been uneven, and to find more leaguewide sponsors (only nine of the 14 clubs played in 2019; that will grow to 12 next year). A more favorable media deal is also important: CBS Sports has aired a package of regular-season games and the playoffs in the first two years but is not paying a rights fee.
One early issue Killebrew may confront: Some media reports have suggested the operators of the Glendale, Colo., franchise want out of the league, which Anderson said he cannot rule out.
With the appointment, MLR intends to relocate its headquarters from Salt Lake City to Dallas.