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# Alignment
A British and Irish League? An aligned global calendar? Maybe...
Hannah Bowe of Esportif explains why rugby is on the ‘cusp of change.’

WHILE THE FOCUS right now is on figuring out how best to salvage rugby in 2020 – if at all possible – one of the positives to come out of the current crisis in the sport is the fact that World Rugby, its member unions, and even the clubs are working together.

The sense from within the game is that there is a more collaborative mindset among these various parties than has been the case in the past.

All options are on the table as everyone attempts to ensure rugby moves forward in a financially-viable state in the short-term.

Getting rugby back up and running as soon as it is safe to do so is the priority, but it’s clear that some consideration has been given to rugby’s future too.

james-lowe-tackled-by-brad-barritt Andrew Fosker / INPHO Seeing the likes of Leinster and Saracens plays the Crusaders or Jaguares would be fascinating. Andrew Fosker / INPHO / INPHO

EPCR confirmed yesterday that it and its stakeholders have discussed a Club World Cup competition that could take place every four years, pitting Europe’s best against the leading Super Rugby sides. A mouthwatering prospect.

That came after French rugby federation president Bernard Laporte had suggested an annual Club World Cup, a proposal that is extremely light on detail and doesn’t make as much sense.

In short, there has been lots of chatter about the global season becoming more aligned than before as the game hopefully moves forward from its current pause.

This alignment is something that Esportif – who are “global rugby talent management specialists,” representing players like Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Jordan Larmour, Alun Wyn Jones, Jacob Stockdale and Damian McKenzie – feel is going to be a central part of rugby in the near future.

Esportif’s new ‘International Rugby in Focus’ report was compiled before the coronavirus outbreak but its predictions for the future of the game remain relevant.

Top of Esportif’s “five predicted changes by 2025″ is that there will be “global calendar alignment for both the domestic and international season.”

Hannah Bowe, who has driven the Esportif Intelligence arm of the company and compiled this report, explains that the prediction is based on speaking to different CEOs and new investors coming into rugby.

“If you look at what they want to do and how they want to commercialise the sport, broadcast and that whole side of it obviously plays a big part,” says Bowe.

“And for them to look at getting the big sponsorship deals – to attract the likes of a Nike or whatever – they need to make the sport big enough. Currently, it’s not big enough.

“You estimate the size of the primary sponsor for every club at the top of European rugby – Top 14, Pro14, and Premiership – and all of that together is still less than what Liverpool’s main sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered was.”

Giving the big sponsors and broadcasters more to “bite on” is key, according to Bowe.

Of course, the current global crisis could drastically change what broadcaster and sponsors have to offer.

But an aligned season that opens up the possibility for some sort of Club World Cup competition, as well as more box-office international Test fixtures, seems obvious.

“The common-sense approach would be to get everyone to operate on the same calendar,” says Bowe, who admits that the exact detail any global season would need to be figured out – whether both hemispheres would adapt a February to November season each calendar year, or whether the currently divided rugby calendars overlap more often.

Also among the Esportif predictions for the next five years is that there will be a “British and Irish league(s) with a reduced format of European Cup Rugby.”

A British and Irish League would certainly whet the appetite of many supporters and with private equity firm CVC having bought into the Premiership and being close to doing the same with the Pro14 and Six Nations, Bowe feels it makes sense.

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“There’s something in promotion and relegation because it makes things more interesting.

“If you can end up with changing the Premiership and Pro14 effectively into two divisions, you end up with a better competition and yet it’s still across a small geographical area, so easy for flights and travel.

“Even in the short-term, that might be some kind of final at the end of the season, but it feels like it would be possible to do and you would have the very top teams playing more regularly.”

Many fans will stress the importance of the European Cup competition, particularly here in Ireland. A calendar without it would seem very strange indeed.

But Laporte has suggested that the European competition “doesn’t generate enough income” and Bowe feels it is “under commercialised,” so it will be fascinating to note how this all develops.

a-view-of-tv-cameras-at-the-game James Crombie / INPHO Making the game more attractive to sponsors and broadcasters will be the key focus for CVC. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Whatever happens next, Esportif’s report suggests that rugby is on the “cusp of change” and that it “has the opportunity to make a transition akin to first going professional in 1995.”

Key to that will be those like CVC – external investors “who see an undervalued product.”

“For them, I don’t think it’s necessarily about the game, rugby’s values, keeping all of that alive,” explains Bowe.

“I think they’re looking at this sport that has international appeal and has a catchment of the right demographic of people for broadcasters to get involved. It’s good on TV.

“But if you’re looking at rugby compared to cricket, football, American sports, F1, the number are just so much lower and they’re probably wondering why that is.”


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