Glendale, Colorado, is many things. One thing it is not, however, is large in size. At just under one square mile, it is downright small when measured by a yardstick. But Glendale is not measured by a yardstick. When it comes to making plans, the city, and its citizens, shrugs off its small stature, setting its sights on bigger things. Examples of bold plans turning into big results can be seen not only in the success on the field at Infinity Park, but also in the many thriving business partnerships that the sport of rugby has helped cultivate in the area. Case study number one is O’Brien Rugby.
In 2002 Barret O’Brien helped start a business called Custom Printing Services. A few years later, the plan to make Glendale into the nation’s rugby capital started to emerge. Although the business was off to a good start, Barret and his wife, Laura, saw an opening. “I quickly realized that the O’Brien Rugby concept could be a great confluence of our knowledge of the industry and our passion for the sport of rugby,” Barret said. So, the O’Briens created O’Brien Rugby.
To some, this plan might have seemed out of place. Starting a business focused on a niche sport like Rugby might seem too narrow a vision. Perhaps the O’Briens were putting all their money on one number when they should have been spreading their bets across a wider range of opportunities. If they heard criticisms like that at the time, they weren’t alone. The Infinity Park project was big talk for a small town. Glendale? Too small to host big-time events. Rugby? Too obscure. The sports marketplace? Too crowded.
But the O’Briens were resolute. “I wouldn’t use the word ‘risk,’” Barret said. “I would use the word ‘opportunity.’ Not just for me and O’Brien Rugby, but for Colorado as a whole. Since rugby is the second most popular sport in the world behind soccer, it will not be long before the rest of the country begins to catch up with us.”
Growing up together
In retrospect, the soundness of both plans seems obvious. The sport is growing rapidly in the US, and Glendale has indeed become RugbyTown, USA. Thousands of children have learned the sport through Infinity Park’s youth programs, and thousands of fans have watched the Glendale Raptors bring home national championships. The O’Briens have been part of that ascent, ensuring the team and fans are equipped with rugby equipment.
A primary reason both the Raptors and the O’Briens have found success is that both value the importance of family. Becky and Jenny are the twin daughters of Barret and Laura. During their high school years, rugby became a subject for them, just like math and science.
“At first, we didn’t know much about rugby or the business,” Jenny said. “I mean, I knew rugby was a sport people loved in Europe, New Zealand and such and I knew what the company’s role was, but that’s about it.”
So, Becky and Jenny learned about rugby and about running a business. Their jobs weren’t just running a cash register: Instead, they learned the game of rugby from the inside-out and used what they learned to help build the company’s brand and develop new ideas, growing the family business exponentially over the past 36 months.
As a result, Becky and Jenny will begin their freshman years at CU Boulder already armed with a hands-on business degree. “I know we have learned the hard work it takes to be successful,” Becky said. “It hasn’t always been easy. We have learned the freedom, but also the tireless work it takes to have your own business.”
More than a business
Business is booming, but the O’Briens know that success is found beyond the bottom line. Barret is quick to point out that he’s in the rugby culture, not the rugby business. “It’s a sport that certainly has a business element that surrounds it, but what you will find is that fans and players love to evangelize for the sport,” he said. “It’s difficult to express the growth because it’s been so rapid and without precedent in Colorado. Glendale supports Youth Rugby, and those young people have been the best ambassadors for the game.”
In addition, he knows that being a sponsor isn’t just about capitalizing on the increasing number of eyes watching Raptors rugby. “Our relationship goes beyond a vendor-city agreement, we’ve all become very close friends – that’s how Glendale operates,” Barret said. “We’ve gone through all the growing pains together which has created a very strong bond. It’s the type of atmosphere that encourages involvement. It’s invaluable to know that once you’re an integral part of the team, you’re there as long as you want to stay. I’ve never seen that sense of camaraderie in any other business venture I’ve been a part of.”
Due to their commitment to plan boldly, value family, and build community, the O’Brien family business, like the sport of rugby in Glendale, will continue to thrive.
And the O’Brien daughters? They will thrive, too. “I think O’Brien Rugby has taught them a lot,” Barret said. “I wanted to give them a jump start and I think this experience did that for them. It’s been so much fun I’m excited for what the future holds.”