THERE WAS A touch of the Spinal Tap about yesterday’s Pro14 launch in the Aviva Stadium as the obligatory promotional video that comes with this kind of event included the sight of a swift and easy logo change.
One minute it’s the old familiar Pro12 we’ve seen around for six years, then it flips – not one, but two louder – all the way up to 14.
The black colour scheme of the sponsor didn’t help with a funereal quality as official addresses were made from the stage with jokes landing like bricks and wistful memories of free-flowing Springbok flair striking a chord with nobody.
The message from CEO Martin Anayi was of a much firmer foundation. The important aspect from his table was the commercial health of this venture. It’s not sexy (unless of course you’re lying on a slice of the €97 million per season TV deal the Top 14 are waiting to roll in) but it’s Anayi’s task to bring the Pro14 in that direction.
“France, the numbers I have seen are extraordinary. I find it difficult to see how we could get there in short space of time,” Anayi admitted before pointing to the Premiership figures as a more manageable benchmark. Yet one which can only be chased with the combined markets from the five nations in the tournament.
“Because we’re multi-territory, the aggregate will get closer. But that’s where (France) are now. They’re going to kick on as well,” warns the CEO.
Just as well the logo is designed to easily tick on a few digits higher, because more territories would be useful for the Pro14. Not just in the USA, where the landscape is complicated by Doug Schoninger’s failed PRO Rugby tournament which fell into dispute with the American union, but in Germany, where Anayi name-checks former La Rochelle player Robert Mohr as someone who is making central Europe an increasingly viable place unleash rugby on.
“It’s definitely a possibility. We’re passed negotiations it can happen but it has got to happen with USA Rugby’s blessing, World Rugby’s blessing.”
He adds: “We’ll continue to look at expansion but expansion has to work on a lot of areas – player welfare, right time zones, right format, it has to be competitive. Then it needs to work commercially. If any of those things aren’t present, you shouldn’t expand.”
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The competitiveness of an American or German franchise would need to be aided by the tournament organisers with investment and incentives for players to go play there until a more organic method of player production was put in place.
The South Africa expansion was able to come about quicker because of the ingrained rugby culture that already exists. And Anayi is excited by the potential of the Cheetahs and Kings to compete, and force a rule change to allow them compete in EPCR tournaments, even if their squad lists are short star power for their first season in the northern hemisphere.
“Two of the most significant player pathways in the whole of South Africa,” argues Anayi, before getting back to brass tacks, “and paying (players) in euros or pounds against the rand will mean they can attract players or keep them on multi-year contracts, just give it some time and they will be pushing the other guys.
“And if you don’t believe me, ask Rassie Erasmus.”
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