Getting Down to Business with the Guinness PRO14

The Guinness PRO14 is the latest branding for rugby fans to get their heads around ahead of the opening rounds on Friday, September 1st.

It’s not a big semantic step from last season’s Guinness PRO12 but in terms of the indication of ambition from the management behind the Championship, it’s big enough, at least for now.

Italy was the first step beyond the confines of the original Celtic League bringing together the four provinces of Ireland with their rugby counterparts from Scotland and Wales.

This next phase sees the arrival on our shores, as well as our departure for theirs, of two South African teams the Toyota Cheetahs and the Southern Kings.

It is an expansion which has been long in the planning and will likely be followed in two years time by further growth towards the United States.

Climbing Revenues

Exciting times then for fans and the teams or Unions who will benefit from rising interest and climbing revenues.

“It’s about creating more sustainable clubs and greater revenues for them,” said PRO14 Rugby CEO Martin Anaiyi at the Dublin launch of the new season.”

A lot of research has gone into plotting the future of this backbone of the fixture calendar for the clubs.

Fans said that they wanted more knock out rugby and this expansion delivers by adding Quarter Finals to the Final Series in May, without breaking the 24-week limit imposed by having to fit into the global rugby calendar.

They also said they wanted more games where there was something at stake and splitting into two conferences mean that more teams will have more to play for deeper into the season. And yet they also wanted to retain the important ‘local’ derby matches which has also been done with clubs continuing to play their main domestic rivals even across the two conferences, just as is the case in the NFL.

Clarity

What the fans said was echoed with perfect clarity from the broadcasters and the sponsors, both of whom provide critical revenue streams into the model.

It is interesting that the expansion comes ‘mid-stream’ for both.

Diageo is going into year four of an extended six-year deal as title partners.

“This expansion lifts the Championship and creates a new experience that Guinness can be very much a part of, as is the case across all our Rugby partnerships,” said Diageo European Sponsorship Manager Rory Sheridan.

“We have shared with our South African colleagues how much this partnership has going for it in terms of potential and they are fully on board with backing it in the Southern hemisphere.”

Join us tomorrow for a more extended interview with Rory Sheridan on the importance of Rugby within the Guinness portfolio.

In Ireland, Wales and Scotland we have an extra dimension to play with as well.

Broadcasting is in a nervier state given that all the existing broadcast deals, with TG4, BBC Sport, S4C on free to air and Sky Sports in the Pay Per View sector, will expire at the end of this first season of the new format.

The importance of these TV rights is indicated by the fact that BT Sport’s deal for the four-year cycle to 2022 is reported to be worth €55 million.

“Discussions are already underway with all our existing broadcast partners as well as many more who have shown a keen interest in what club rugby delivers,” said PRO14 Rugby Commercial Director Dermot Rigley who joined from RTÉ at the start of this year.

“There are many different dynamics that go into a TV rights deal and the expansion comes at a very interesting time for us and for the broadcast companies.”

Rugby has proved a febrile environment for TV in recent years. The Six Nations, for so long a staple of BBC in the UK and RTÉ here will next year be split across ITV and the BBC across the water and switched to TV3 in the Republic of Ireland.

eir Sport and ITV have the rights to the next Rugby World Cup while the European Champions Cup is in flux as well with a blend of BT Sport and a return to live free to air coverage of selected matches, for the first time since 2006, ready to commence for the 2018 /19 season.

The importance of these TV rights is indicated by the fact that BT Sport’s deal for the four-year cycle to 2022 is reported to be worth €55 million.

How much the Guinness PRO14 will generate will be decided in the coming weeks and months as either one or more likely a number of deals, are hammered out.

That will deliver a better experience for fans and through them for sponsors, ultimately resulting in a greater return for clubs as they battle against the bigger financial muscle of the English and French clubs.

A final kicker for the clubs and Irish fans is the decision to play the first Guinness PRO14 Final at the Aviva Stadium next May. There was a competitive tender process with interest from across and range of different sporting and geographic venues.

Ultimately though the decision was to go with the venue that hosted a record crowd in 2017 and is likely to do so again for 2018. One rock of stability then, in a changing landscape for Leinster, Munster, Connacht and Ulster.

So long as they get there of course, and the race to do that is underway from September 1st.

Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht Rugby, as well as Vodafone, PwC, Bank of Ireland and many more are members of the Sport for Business community.  What could we do together for your organisation?

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