Rugby going global …


AT A time when Premier League football’s plans to tout its product around the world look as if they have been scuppered, there are clear signs that rugby has stolen a march on the round-ball marketeers and is going global. Three months after the 2007 World Cup made record profits, the sport is breaking out of its traditional confines in search of new converts, and The Sunday Times can reveal the Guinness Premiership has well-advanced plans to play matches overseas, possibly as early as this summer.

John Varney, the commercial director of Premier Rugby, which runs the Guinness Premiership, has had talks with sports promoters in Dubai, Hong Kong and Japan aimed at exporting English rugby to a worldwide audience through clubs including Leicester, Gloucester and Wasps playing preseason matches and tournaments in those territories.

Premier Rugby’s export drive coincides with the news that its overseas television income has doubled in the last 18 months.

Varney says that although Guinness Premiership league matches will only be played in England, he believes the clubs will carry their keen competitive edge overseas, especially as part of preseason preparation. “A mini-tournament format in neutral venues over a two-week period, which gives our clubs matches against each other, as well as against teams from elsewhere, could benefit everyone,” he said.

Premier Rugby is not the only brand seeking to tap into the overseas market, with international rugby also getting in on the act. New Zealand and Australia have confirmed they will play each other in Hong Kong in October en route to their northern hemisphere tours, while the British and Irish Lions have looked at playing Argentina in a warm-up game en route to South Africa next year, with Dubai or Singapore possible venues. The Lions played a Test against the Pumas in Cardiff in 2005 before leaving on their New Zealand tour.

New Zealand, who want to promote the All Black brand worldwide, have recently signed a cooperative agreement with the USA, which includes plans to play Ireland in New York, in the hope of selling the game to the city’s large Irish-American population. They are not alone in trying to forge links with the Irish diaspora, Munster having played the USA Eagles in Chicago last summer. Despite limited prematch publicity, a crowd of almost 10,000 turned up.

Argentina’s formal invitation from SANZAR to play one Test each against South Africa, New Zealand and Australia this August, during the TriNations window, appears to be further evidence of rugby’s global ambitions. This move, after decades of Argentina being excluded from mainstream international competition, is the clearest signal yet from SANZAR, the organization which runs the TriNations and Super 14, that it is serious about involving the South American nation in the southern hemisphere’s biggest competitions.

Source: Times online


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