Entrepreneur Spotlight: Brady Payne of Cleveland Rugby League

Savvy entrepreneurs know that identifying a gap in the market is a crucial first step in building a successful business. When Brady Payne’s high school friend and former football teammate, Monté Gaddis, approached him with the idea to create a North American professional rugby league, Brady’s interest piqued. A college athlete, sports enthusiast and enterprising individual himself, Brady knew that a non-American sport like rugby suffered from a lack of general awareness, and there he saw a business opportunity.

“I had basically been running my own business since I was in college, freelancing logos and designs,” Brady explains. “So, I was in that entrepreneurial mindset.”

The COVID-19 pandemic upended the initial efforts to form a North American league, but Monté and Brady’s outfit, Cleveland Rugby League, endured and has become a staple on the Midwestern rugby scene ever since.

The Cleveland Rugby League is a black-owned, first-class sports organization that provides an authentic fan experience with amateur games, traveling tournaments and a professional team. But beyond facilitating teams and games for area athletes and rugby fans, Cleveland Rugby League is focused on community enrichment.

Through after school programs and summer camps, Monté and Brady not only teach kids how to play rugby, but they also help them work through key developmental concepts like health and fitness, social and emotional learning, and mental and behavioral support. Brady says that through their programming and mentorship, Cleveland Rugby League is helping kids lay a foundation for the rest of their lives.

“I think the best thing is that we’re offering kids a brand-new outlet for self-expression that also sets them up with opportunities for the future,” Brady explains.

The players that makeup Cleveland Rugby League’s various men’s and women’s teams also act as the coaches for their Little Leagues Youth Program, which is offered in more than 20 schools in Ohio and Tennessee. In Northeast Ohio, the Little Leagues is an accredited program in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

As part of their business strategy, Cleveland Rugby League leverages their diverse player base to foster partnerships with school districts. With a roster comprising of athletes from across Ohio and the United States, many players travel in for games. When they’re back home, they talk up the Little Leagues to their professional networks and alma maters. This grassroots advocacy is an effective tactic for introducing the league’s initiatives to new states and schools.

“We are really offering kids multiple pathways to success,” Brady explains. “If they want to play collegiately, we have connections to a lot of colleges and universities; if they want to work for us, we have employment opportunities; if they want to play professionally, we can get them the credentials they need to play in the U.K. or Australia.”

Last year, Brady saw an advertisement for a free JumpStart event at the Cleveland Browns Stadium. Intrigued, he went and spent time networking with other attendees and JumpStart’s business advisers.

“I went on a whim,” he says. “And after I learned about all the support JumpStart provides entrepreneurs, I signed up.”

From there, Brady grew his relationship with the organization; getting his financials in order and preparing for the next steps. Earlier this year, Brady was accepted into the 17th cohort of the Small Business Impact Program and spent 12 weeks in the hands-on accelerator program, learning the ins and outs of business growth.

Brady says it’s been beneficial to have a network of support as he navigates business achievements and setbacks.

“The the main challenge for me as a business owner is turning the losses into wins,” Brady confesses. “It’s a mindset more than anything, but it’s also learning how to pivot and stay consistent; being agile in your planning and projections.”

Today, he attends one-on-one meetings with his advisor who is helping him meet major milestones; currently he is working through different certifications that will allow his business to qualify for certain contracts.

One day, Brady says, he hopes that Cleveland Rugby League will be able to build a stadium.

“If we can get a stadium,” Brady hypothesizes, “We can do games here in-house, we can more than likely create the North American league here in-house, but also we’ll have a ton of employment opportunities, special programming, all types of stuff that will benefit the city and the community and that’s the real goal.”