Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty doesn’t see a merger between the English league and the Pro12 “in the foreseeable future”, adding that international rugby runs the risk of overexposure through too many fixtures.
Speaking at yesterday’s Web Summit, McCafferty said: “I don’t see that (merger) in the foreseeable future. We have to recognise there have been different systems — in France and England people have invested money in the clubs; we’ve positioned ourselves as the most competitive league in the world with the backing of investors. Those investors are not giving up on that ambition, they’re becoming more ambitious.
“The Pro12 has to recognise it must invest more in their league, to have three strong leagues in Europe.
“If you did that (merge) then that’s European competition. That brings three leagues together, but if you combine the English and Pro12 you’d destroy cross-European competition.
“The club, European and international levels are the platform for growth for rugby — but you need private investment. Scotland, New Zealand, and I believe Ireland are moving in that direction.”
On player welfare, McCafferty feels England is striking the proper balance: “An international in England plays 26 to 28 games, it’s important to note we’ve moved that workload down. We’re doing a lot of work on that workload, the players’ conditioning is first class — but we also audit injuries, and those injury levels haven’t changed since 2003.
“What’s happened is that there’s a lot more publicity, the sport’s grown, and there are more headlines about players being absent through injury coming up to international games — but the levels are where they were 13 years ago. A lot of players are not playing 80 minutes, either, but it’s more intense. That’s true of club games as well.”
The need to work out a proper playing calendar is a challenge that also must be addressed, he added.
“It’s very hard (to organise but there’s an attempt to separate the seasons, distinct times for club and international games, but there are all kinds of things involved in that global calendar. I’d like to see fewer overlaps between club rugby and international rugby. The biggest growth area in rugby is at club level.
“The international level is the premium product, you have the best of the best — but you mustn’t play too many international matches either, which was something cricket suffered from for a while. If you overexpose the game then attendances can suffer.
“You can have empty seats, as happened last weekend. That’s a signal of over exposure of international rugby.
“When the game went professional, people said we’d never get 60,000 at a club game, but we’ve had occasions when we’ve had 80,000 people in a stadium. Granted, there are times when the lead time to sell a game is shorter than we’d like — an extra week between a quarter and semi-final would help — but club rugby will continue to grow because tribalism is growing. It needs to dovetail with international competition.”
It must also dovetail with media rights, says McCafferty. “It’s very competitive in the UK and France for media rights. We have to position the competitions in collaboration with broadcasters, but in the next few months, we’ll go through a process which may have a different outcome (to the previous deal).
“Looking back over 20 years the growth was phenomenal, but the role of TV was a driving force. The media landscape is going to change, and we in professional sport must embrace that.
“Terrestrial TV — we put highlights out on that every week, but I saw a comment from a US broadcaster that people will find the screen that suits them, and we need to recognise that.”
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