What Is A Gilgroni And Why Should You Care?
What Is A Gilgroni And Why Should You Care?
One of the more surprising pieces of news to circulate through Major League Rugby was the sale of the newly-named Austin Herd to an Australian company and the renaming of the team to the Austin Gilgronis.
For the cynical perhaps this was the final death throes of a team that was winless in 2019 and then had a complete change in the front office and the coaching staff. They even changed their name from the Austin Elite to the Austin Herd. Those initial changes, which brought in former Eagle great Todd Clever as Director of Rugby and chief bridge-builder, brought its own feeling of optimism.
This is what longtime Austin player Mason Pedersen said during a scrimmae just a few weeks ago. (If you don't see the embedded video, please refresh the page.)
But in fact the Gilgronis news has players on the Austin team feeling pretty good. On January 29, it was announced that Loyals LLC had purchased the club, renamed it the Austin Gilgronis, and said it would move to the Circuit of the Americas complex for home games.
And immediately more changes were announced. Former Australia national skills coach Mick Byrne was brought in as Director of Rugby. Loyals CEO Matt Burgess announced plans to cap game tickets at $5, paying youth rugby player annual fees, kit-out youth teams at wholesale prices, and sponsoring age-grade teams that travel to national championships.
"It's a huge investment, huge," Burgess told Goff Rugby Report.
Austin Gilgronis kit reveal
All of this from a company that is making and promoting ... what?
What's a Gilgroni?
It's all about a cocktail. The Gilgroni, which is probably a little like a Negroni, is or will be an alcoholic mixed drink that will have a non-alcoholic version. It's name is a combination of the Negroni and a play on the name of Adam Gilchrist, co-owner of F45 Gyms and the major money behind the deal. (Gilchrist is known to new MLR commissioner George Killebrew because they worked a sponsorship deal with the NBA's Dallas Mavericks back when Killebrew worked there.)
What it is hasn't been finalized (the implication is that the company is finalizing deals with specific spirits companies), but the drink is more about a lifestyle. The company had to finalize the deal and change the uniforms and the names NOW because the season was about to start.
"You're right that it is going to be a cocktail that has ingredients that other people can replicate, but this is about finding something that resonates with our target audience and fits with the city," said Burgess. Austin is a city that likes going out and having a drink and getting together as a group of friends. That's what the city is about, so it makes sense to have a brand that's about that, too, he added.
The Gilgroni cocktail itself will be unveiled eventually, but launching everything else had to be done right now.
On The Field
Burgess said they didn't want to clean house. Much of that house had been cleaned out anyway, and sources say only one person could be said to have received a demotion in the buyout—Clever is no longer Director of Rugby, but he has no problem with that because Byrne is a world-class coaching expert, and Clever's usefulness is more about keeping the positive vibe in Austin, making connections, and helping navigate some of the MLR minefield (like the salary cap).
Andrew Suniula is still the head coach.
"We're moving forward," Suniula said. "We can change direction a little bit this way and that way, and as long as we're moving forward and up, then it's good," he said.
"Just because we didn't do well doesn't mean we get rid of everyone," said Burgess, who is not that far removed from a pretty serious rugby career himself. "We had to look at it and see that there are good players who care; we just need to be developing the team."
In the end, the key part was, do these new guys mean what they say? On February 6, the players saw 51 pallets of training equipment show up. Several of the players got to work unloading it.
"That was a big thing," said Pedersen, who watched the pallets delivered. "Right then you see that they mean what they say. We went from the team with maybe the least amount of money to the team with maybe the most. To see them serious about ou preparation and taking care of the players means a lot."
A Race Track?
Yes, a race track. Circuit of the Americas—"COTA" as the cool kids call it—is a massive complex south and east of downtown Austin. That's a departure for the Austin Gilgronis as they had been set to play in Round Rock, which is north and west of downtown Austin. COTA hosts Formula 1, Indy Car, GT, and Le Mans endurance auto race events. But it does more than that. The Rolling Stones are going to be there; they have Karting for fans to participate, and they have an amphitheater and a stadium.
Park at COTA and to get to the race track you walk right by the stadium, which is home to the Austin Bold soccer team and, now, the Gilgronis rugby team. Everyone going to the other events will see that there's a rugby team, and the stadium itself has top-of-the-line locker rooms and a full professional atmosphere.
So it's a huge investment from a company that is promoting a product we don't know anything about yet. But they say they're here for the long haul, and this ownership group is also involved in the new LA team in MLR. So they're in the league for the long haul.
Short haul? Sunday COTA hosts the Gilgronis against the Toronto Arrows. That will be step one. Or maybe step one was to create an unconventional ownership and promotional plan for a league that has a lot of work ahead of it.
"Oh," said Burgess, "I know this hasn't been done before."
That is probably the point.