By Simon Lewis
Guinness PRO14 boss Martin Anayi has hinted that the league’s final may switch kick-off times in order to avoid a clash with Liverpool’s Champions League decider with Real Madrid on May 26.
The two finals are scheduled to get underway within 75 minutes of each other on that Saturday evening, with the PRO14 clash at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium kicking off at 6:30pm and Liverpool’s showdown with Real in Kiev at 7:45pm Irish time.
PRO14 chief executive Anayi admitted yesterday that the decision will ultimately rest with outgoing broadcasters Sky Sports but he was in favour of making a switch in kick-off times to accommodate supporters who wanted to watch both games.
“We are fan friendly,” Anayi said. “Our audience on social media have been quite vocal telling me that we have to move the kick-off.
“With any of these things you want to make sure that you don’t cannibalise your audience. If people are saying that Liverpool going to the Champions League final is a really important game and it is, then should we talk to Sky and our broadcast partners that cover the game and say ‘can we move it forward a bit?’
“Maybe we can do that. That’s what we are furiously trying to arrange at the moment. So, more to follow on that I guess.”
Speaking in Dublin yesterday to announce eir sport’s securing of PRO14 broadcast rights in Ireland for the next three seasons, hot on the heels of Premier Sport reaching a similar agreement for the UK and Northern Ireland, Anayi welcomed the new broadcasters as being more flexible and sympathetic to supporters’ needs in terms of kick-off times throughout the season.
Munster Rugby insiders have long been frustrated by unfriendly kick-off times for some of its live TV fixtures on Sky Sports, particularly with large numbers of supporters required to travel from Cork to Thomond Park for all but four league games a season.
Nor, despite describing eir sport as the new “one-stop shop” for the PRO14 in Ireland, showing all 152 games per season, would there be an even wider array of kick-off times across a weekend to accommodate the ramping up of coverage.
“The broadcasters we have for next season, we just have a bit more flexibility for next season for scheduling that will mirror what’s good for a club, province or region and the nuances of whether you are in Cork or in Limerick.
“That’s kick-off times, but it’s an important distinction that our new deal with these broadcasters will allow for.
"The flexibility that those broadcasters have as subscription or sports-specific channels, we have more flexibility over our scheduling. This year, great partners in the BBC and Sky but just a little less flexibility in their scheduling.”
However, Anayi could not guarantee that marquee fixtures such as Leinster v Scarlets or Munster v Glasgow will be moved in the schedule to avoid international windows when star names are missing from both line-ups.
“In terms of getting off international weekends, it is just so tricky. There are very few weekends in the calendar. All players should be playing less rugby not more rugby.
“The Six Nations is the Six Nations and that is going to stay where it is and the autumn is the autumn and they are going to stay where they are. We just need to look at the 2020, the new global season calendar and say how do we be a bit more flexible?
"How do we prove to our stakeholders that maybe slightly less is more; maybe playing slightly less games in a season is good for everything because it will allow the players to play in a higher proportion of games. It’s a process though.
“I would love to change it overnight but we just haven’t got there yet. Maybe they’ll take that point.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.