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Rugby

Reinventing Rodd Newhouse: How Dallas Jackals Owner, COO Plans to Grow DFW’s Pro Rugby Team

From being fired by the Arizona Cardinals to becoming a Major League Rugby team owner, the son of late Dallas Cowboy Robert Newhouse is bullish on the Dallas Jackals' business and on-pitch outlook.
| |Cover Photo by Kathy Tran
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The Dallas Jackals just wrapped up its second season as part of new professional sports league Major League Rugby. Photography by Kathy Tran

Rodd Newhouse walks into Al Biernat’s with a long, slim jewelry box. We sit at a round corner booth, and he opens the box. Sparkling in the dimmed light are four Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl rings, and two Cowboys NFC Championship rings earned by his late father, Robert Newhouse—who won one Super Bowl as a player and three in the front office.

“Growing up, I was Roderick comma son of Dallas Cowboy Robert Newhouse,” he says. “I tried, naturally, as a young teenager to try to shake that. I wanted my own identity. As I sit here today, I have created my own way.”

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Rodd Newhouse Dallas Jackals

Rodd Newhouse is part of the Dallas Jackals ownership group—a Major League Rugby expansion team—and the frontman of operations as the COO and co-managing partner for the budding organization. The relationship Newhouse has between the day-to-day management of the team and ownership of it is rare—especially as a fledgling organization. Newhouse is investing his capital into the team, but he doesn’t take a salary despite being COO.

“Don’t get me wrong, if I were the COO of something else, I’m taking a salary,” he says. “I have my day job [as a wealth manager for sport and entertainment professionals] and a hobby. My hobby just so happens to be another full-time day job. I was offered an opportunity to be paid, but I declined. I want my partners to understand that I am a partner, and I am working alongside them, putting our money in, so we can all reap the benefits later in some way.”

Top Tier Rugby, a sports investment fund co-founded by Texas Rangers co-owner Neil Leibman, controls a majority interest in the franchise. Donnie Nelson, the former Dallas Mavericks GM, is also involved with a small, minority stake in the team. The Jackals play home games at Choctaw Stadium (the former home field of the Texas Rangers).

The Jackals just wrapped up its second season in the six-year-old league. Year one didn’t yield a win. This season the Jackals won twice out of 16 tries. But the on-field performance isn’t stopping Newhouse from believing in the long-term financial success of the franchise.

“We don’t have a lot of samples,” Newhouse says. “But I can say we are in a much better financial position than a year ago. It would not surprise me at all if we’re more than profitable next year in 2024.”

It would not surprise me at all if [the Dallas Jackals] are more than profitable next year in 2024.

Rodd Newhouse, owner, COO and co-managing partner, Dallas Jackals

But how?

“We are leaning into some marketing pushes that we think will yield a good sized crowd,” Newhouse says. “These pushes will result in good merchandise sales. And they will get people wanting to come out and share a suite experience with large groups. We’re also taking pages out of what Major League Baseball does with some theme nights. We’re working with local school districts, church groups, law firms, and other organizations to spread the word.”

Regarding the financials that go into putting together a team in a burgeoning league, Newhouse admits, “Our player salaries aren’t robust at the moment, candidly speaking. (MLR’s salary cap for the 2023 season was $550,000 per team split among more than 30 players.) The more we can sell tickets and increase our revenue, the more notoriety we get to be able to increase television dollars, which can grow the league and increase the salaries over time.”

Major League Rugby is out of startup mode and into a growth phase. First reported by Bloomberg, the MLR—headquartered in Dallas—is seeking to raise $100 million in capital for its next stage of advancement. The league has a television deal with FOX Sports and is on a runway that culminates with North America hosting the 2031 Men’s Rugby World Cup and the 2033 Women’s Rugby World Cup. Former MLR commissioner George Killebrew likens it to Major League Soccer’s birth after the U.S. hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

“When professional soccer was coming to America, many people were [uneasy] about it,” he says. “Soccer is obviously a global game, and so is rugby. America is really the only country not to take a foothold on it yet. But by the time the World Cup rolls around, the MLR can have a team in every major metropolitan area in America.”

Newhouse doubles down.

“It’s going to take money to grow this league,” he says. “But as far as the education goes, we’re going to have to take people in America halfway into the game before we take them all the way. We just can’t project the rules onto them and say, ‘This is rugby.’ We have to explain that a scrum is like a face-off in hockey with more people; a line-out is like a jump ball in basketball with more people; it’s all about cross-pollination.”

Inside Rodd’s Resume

Newhouse opts for soup and a salad—despite turning down the temptation for something more hearty—while I put up no fight and go with the Tuesday special, wagyu meatballs. Between bites at our round table, Newhouse opens up about his football career.

Like his father, Newhouse was a running back. He racked up more than 600 scrimmage yards for Rice University from 1994 to 1997, resulting in signing as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. His professional football career lasted through the summer before being released prior to training camp in 1998. His second chance in the NFL didn’t come on the field but as an intern at the league office.

“I learned very quickly I was not going to be the guy bouncing from team to team chasing a dream,” Newhouse says. “I thought, ‘I can either move on with my life, or I can delay what is going to inevitably happen anyways.’”

By October 1998, Newhouse was working at the NFL’s office in New York as an intern with the National Football League Management Counsel learning about player personnel, labor relations, and the salary cap. He desired to work in the front office of a sports team—and eventually, become an owner.

His role at the league offices opened the door to becoming the assistant director of pro personnel for the Arizona Cardinals by 1999, working on everything from the salary cap and contract management to driving guys to the doctor.

But in 2006, the Cardinals fired him. During his seven-year stint with the team, Newhouse decided to get his real estate license. “My dad had his real estate license because he just never knew where life would take him—so I did the same,” Newhouse says. “But someone in the organization thought I was selling real estate to the players; that just wasn’t true.”

After the accusation, Newhouse transitioned into doing some work for ESPN.com and put his real estate license to use as a broker with Marcus & Millichap—but his 2006–2009 stint in the industry was less than prestigious due to the financial crisis and housing market crash. Simultaneously, Newhouse earned a law degree from Concord Law School. “I was reinventing myself two and three times over,” he says.

I was reinventing myself two and three times over.

Rodd Newhouse, owner, COO and co-managing partner, Dallas Jackals

In 2010, Newhouse re-entered the sports world as the director of player personnel for the Arena Football League’s San Jose Sabrecats, but in 2011 he repurposed himself once more and added six years of financial advising with Wells Fargo to his resume.

It was there that Newhouse learned that if he wanted to be the owner of a sports team, he wasn’t going to do so by working in sports. “If I wanted to create the wealth I needed to become an owner, I didn’t have to do it working for a professional team. I had to make money outside of professional sports in order to be a part of an ownership group within professional sports.

“Real estate. Law school. Wealth management. Sports. I’m even a Chapter Seven bankruptcy trustee like my father,” he says. “Once I put all those together, I began to see the world more clearly.”

Fast forward to 2020, the Jackals are announced as an MLR expansion team. “I had no idea—that was until someone called me and asked if I wanted to be a part of it,” Newhouse says. He was among the last people to get added to the ownership roster, but Newhouse was willing to do whatever it took to make it work. At its founding, Donnie Nelson’s ownership group possessed 51 percent of the franchise, and Liebman’s owned 49 percent. About halfway through the 2022 season, Top Tier Rugby, Liebman’s holding company, took control of the majority interest.

“2022 was an absolute disaster,” Newhouse says. “We had injuries to boot, and we didn’t win a game. After the season, I slowly started to raise my voice and offer my help where it was needed.”

Going into the 2023 season, the Jackals hired a new general manager and a new president, while Newhouse started pitching into rugby operations—when he wasn’t working his day job as a wealth manager. The Jackals relocated offices from Frisco to Arlington, and, as Newhouse says, the team began to leverage its resources better.

A couple of games into the 2023 season, Newhouse started to dip his toe into the business side of things with the Jackals. After observing the team’s processes, he went to the top of the ownership group and presented to them what he was seeing. They told him, “OK, you’re in charge now.”

“Woah, woah, woah…I wasn’t asking to be in charge,” Newhouse remembers telling them. “I wasn’t trying to say someone is doing it wrong, and it needs to be me; I was just telling them what I was seeing.”

After that, ownership met with the front office and said, “Alright, going forward, we all work for Rodd now.”

“I took it as a little bit of a joke—but it was definitely serious,” Newhouse says.

Now as the frontman, Newhouse knows he’s pulling the strings, but he also is aware that—as part of an unproven sports team in a young professional league—he’s now the fall guy. “I’m the guy taking all the shots if something goes bad—but I don’t have a problem with being out in front of that,” he says.

Ready for the Risks

Newhouse wanted his own identity apart from his Super Bowl-winning father. And he’s earned his individualism now. But since his father’s passing in 2014 due to the rare heart disease amyloidosis, the attributes of his father are lighting a path for the Jackals leader.

“I give my father a lot of credit for where I am today,” Newhouse says. “He equipped me with a lot of the tools I have. Everyone close to my dad tells me how very wise and measured he was, and I just hope I can follow in his footsteps. I always thought that I would follow in the footsteps of my dad on the football field, but ironically, I also became a United States Chapter Seven bankruptcy trustee—and I am more honored being in those footsteps than anything I’ve done on the football field.”

But Newhouse isn’t a spitting image of his father. As we put a cap on our lunch at Al Biernat’s, in between bites of his chocolate bourbon bread pudding, Newhouse describes his father as cautious, measured, and calculated. Some of the risks Newhouse took before his father’s passing weren’t fully approved by the former Cowboy. But risks, Newhouse says, got him into the owner’s box—and continuing to push into risks is what structures the backbone of Newhouse.

“Working in pro sports, I’ve come to realize learning what not to do is just as important as learning what to do,” he says. “I’m prepared to take chances; I’m willing to take calculated risks.”

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Ben Swanger

Ben Swanger

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Ben Swanger is the managing editor for D CEO, the business title for D Magazine. Ben manages the Dallas 500, monthly…
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