What is next for the Gallagher Premiership?

Gallagher Premiership
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This weekend saw the first round of fixtures in the Gallagher Premiership kick-off. This is obviously a welcome change from the off-season. Financial trouble and the slimming down of playing squads to accommodate a smaller salary cap. These issues paint a different picture to the excitement being produced on the pitch. With the uncertainty around Worcester Warriors and the question marks over the financial stability of professional rugby, let’s look at what Premiership Rugby may do next to address this.

Simon Massie-Taylor took the helm of Premiership Rugby in October 2021. Tasked with steering Premiership Rugby onto steadier footing after the impact of Covid to the league and its clubs. On top of his current to-do list will be working with the clubs to navigate around the cost of living crisis and the looming negotiations with the RFU for the next Professional Game Agreement. With the more immediate focus on how the league can support Worcester Warriors. Unable to step in and provide the money the Warriors desperately need to pay back to HMRC, they will be watching closely.

Why does the league need change?

With Worcester’s financial worries, a big question to ask is whether Worcester is an anomaly or are they the first club of many to go through significant concern for their existence. Premiership Rugby needs to look into how they can future-proof the league. The key to growth for a product like Premiership rugby is through its product. The Gallagher Premiership is arguably the most competitive league in world sport, let alone rugby. There are few leagues in the world where any team can genuinely win against any other in the same league.

On top of that, the style of rugby has noticeably changed in recent years. Last season, teams scored on average 610 points in the season which works out to around 25.5 points a match. Compare that to just 2 years ago in 2019-2020 the average was 510 points in a season, around 23 points per match. If we were to look to ten years ago the league was averaging just over 20 points per side in a match. This shows the sport is getting more exciting. There are more point-scoring moments across the board. The product itself is in as good a shape as it ever has been. So, what is next for the Gallagher Premiership?

Rugby’s own Documentary? Forget Drive to Survive, lets Maul for Survival

The next question that PRL will need to tackle is how do they show the world how good this product is. The model for this has been handed on a plate to the league. The world consumes entertainment in a different way to ten years ago, streaming services are king. The resurgence of Formula 1 is directly linked to the success of their Drive to Survive series on Netflix. Football utilizes this with their own fly-on-the-wall documentary-style tv shows following teams throughout a season.

Before Covid, Northampton Saints were lined up to take part in a fly-on-the-wall documentary series. However, the announcement was the extent of progress made with this. If rugby can get a successful fly-on-the-wall documentary series onto one of these major streaming services it is likely a whole new wave of fans will come towards the sport. Drive to Survive brought 500% fan growth into Formula 1. Imagine if crowds, merchandise, tv viewers for premiership rugby were even to increase at a fraction of that level. It would go a great distance to prevent another Worcester Warriors financial scare for any other club.

Showcase Events to become the norm?

Premiership Rugby has also openly stated that they are keen to build on their big events. There have been several successful large crowd fixtures at Twickenham or the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. These events are clearly designed to appeal to a wider audience. Live music before kick-offs, fireworks and fire around the edge of the pitch and a DJ filling any silences. These are all part of a plan to appeal to that wider audience.

There will be some reading this who would much rather rugby steered away from this style of match experience. It is undoubted that these events are as far-flung away from the traditional rugby matchday experience. The pre-match entertainment is watching the teams warm up and the silence filled by a chorus of fans rather than powerful stadium speakers. There need to be some concessions though, even the more traditional rugby fan must accept that the future of the sport needs to be protected.

The superstars of tomorrow

Another obvious change that is already on the way is a more joint-up approach to advertising the superstars of the game. A quick scour across the social media pages of each club there is clear directive to promote their most exciting stars. This appears to be an approach agreed upon across the league. London Irish shared Henry Arundell scoring spectacular tries as often as is appropriate. Bristol Bears move as quickly as possible to share the barnstorming debut of Ellis Genge. The focus is on the excitement, the spectacular and the future.

This approach works, there will be casual fans who will be enticed to watch a few more videos of a particularly exciting player. This then in turn may make them want to come and watch what team they play for. This will be a delicate balance, the players are the ones who will have the power to draw in new people to the league. Whilst having to accept working within a reduced salary cap, they will be expected to be as exciting, and as daring as they possibly could be. To help sell the sport, at the end of the day it is in everyone’s interest to grow the sport.

What next for the Gallagher Premiership?

Gallagher Premiership can’t sit still and expect the game to grow organically. The competition for casual fans’ attention is at its most competitive level than ever before. Premiership Rugby needs to make some moves for what is next for the Gallagher Premiership. Do not be surprised to see more big stadium fixtures, hopefully outside of London as well, in the seasons ahead. The quality of the league would absolutely appeal to fly-on-the-wall documentary makers. Is it only a matter of time before rugby has its own to compete with other sports? Or will the PRL hope the matchday experience will be enough to draw new fans in? Let us know what you think will be next for the Gallagher Premiership.

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