Source: Harlequins

Pro-Rugby – easy, or is it?

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Emily Robinson’s Case

In an interview with the BBC ( Emily Robinson of Quins claims the notion of the PWR turning professional in the next decade is an easy aim.

The only problem with this statement is that she fails to offer much evidence for her optimism. More of the published interview is devoted to praise for her younger sister Flo who has joined her at the Stoop from Exeter Chiefs than to a justification for her views.

She, like some 20% of players in the league, has a professional qualification, as a carpenter. What she does not explain is how many of them she expects to surrender their job for the precarious life as a pro-rugby player. Nor whether the remaining 80% would be willing to embark on this career without security for the future.

Will it be possible in 2033 for a player to reach the standards of the PWR (already in 2023 as high as you please), if remaining in her other paid career?

Media Coverage

Robinson admits: ‘It’s just we obviously need the viewers. We need to reach the people who want to watch it.’

But she doesn’t explain how that is to be achieved. The contract with TNT to show one match live per week has been hailed as a great step forward. But the overall effect thus far (not very far at all!) has been to reduce the number of games visible via livestream. And TNT exists behind a pay-wall. One feature of such companies is an unwillingness to post viewing figures promptly. Many critics view the presence of free-to-air TV is an absolute necessity.

But Barbara Slater, the distinguished head of BBC Sport and soon to retire, made plain to a Parliamentary Select Committee this week how stretched the BBC’s resources were. Slater’s comments lead us to fear the disappearance of the men’s Six Nations from the BBC’s schedules; that then leaves a worrying question-mark over the future of the women’s 6N on BBC2, which proved such a success last year.

When people complain about Auntie’s unwillingness to broadcast sport they think should be available, they ought to check the amount of house-keeping money Auntie is given by her miserly husband, HMG. In a separate comment Niall Sloane, head of ITV sport, was hardly more optimistic.

Solid Foundations

A pro-sport must have a sound base. The PWR is a one-horse circus; there’s no regular promotion/relegation, only ejection if found unsustainable. Ask anyone from DMP, Richmond, Wasps, Waterloo and Worcester.

The better the PWR becomes, the bigger the gap between it and the supporting leagues. Already the chasm between them is unbridgeable.

Then the crowds. As at test level they are growing, but nowhere near big enough to provide the funding for salaries to keep body and soul together. Sponsor and funders of every kind would be needed to ensure a pro-league could stay afloat. The men’s Gallagher Premiership set a minimum capacity of 10,000 for clubs to qualify. Grounds failing to meet that mark (Ealing Trailfinders the classic case) saw the door slammed in their face. Yet the same men’s clubs are swimming in debt, and PWR clubs don’t get anywhere near the same size of crowd.

Finally, the RFU itself is in no position to support failing clubs, as has been proved at the end of each 3-year block of the old Premier 15s. Clubs unable to support themselves have simply been thrown to the wolves.

How many of these issues will have been resolved over the next decade? A cup of coffee costs as much for a woman as for a man.