The venue for the 2020 Guinness PRO14 final – The Cardiff City Stadium – saw it’s launch today as Martyn Phillips (WRU CEO) and Martin Anayi (PRO14 CEO) gave their thoughts on all things Celtic Rugby. Robert Rees has the full interview ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.
2019/20 Guinness PRO14 final scheduled for Cardiff
Martin Anayi (MA): “We’ve worked very hard to bring a final to Cardiff and we’re delighted we’ve got one in June at the Cardiff City Stadium.”
Cardiff City Stadium – Ideal venue
MA: “The stadium has hosted the Amlin Cup, very big events as well as the football. They are also real rugby fans which is quite unusual for a management team.
“It’s the right size for the city. It was the right time to come to Cardiff and they’ve proposed a great solution for us.”
Downgraded capacity right for the audience
MA: “Looking at Cardiff and Wales we think it’s a slightly smaller audience overall and what could we do to really blow the doors off – That’s a sellout.
“We want it full to the rafters. We’ve already seen a record amount of interest on presale.
“The last four years we’ve had finals largely in Dublin or in Scotland and the ticket sales have come from those two locations. We’ve had a Welsh finalist, but we didn’t have as many fans coming across from those other nations.”
Martyn Phillips (MP): “It wasn’t an option to do it in the [Principality] Stadium next June as we have contracts in place for an extended period. It would have been another year without a Welsh final, and we’re pleased Martin was up for doing it.
“Cardiff is a great rugby city and we didn’t feel that we weren’t doing it justice by not having the final in Wales for such a long time and felt pressure to get that done for the regions and the competition.
“The events programme we [WRU] have is very focused on June. That’s critical to us financially and didn’t want to impinge too much on that.
“We did want to get the game here though and we’re pleased as we’ve got both. There’s not going to be a financial impact on the things we have to deliver on.”
Concerned about Giving money to football?
MA: “I’ve asked my finance directors if that’s true and it’s not really. The rental fee is quite small, and our main costs are the marketing and promotion.
“We’ll be using Welsh and Cardiff based businesses to support the event. It may look that way but it’s not factually accurate. Most of the investment is going to Wales.”
MA: “We’ve had great support from the city, with all the marketing and promotional facilities they have. It would be very hard to put a big event on in a big city without that.
“Cardiff City [Football Club] have been amazing.”
Welsh finalist(s) key to PRO14 fan engagement
MA: “It would be great [To have a Welsh finalist]. It helps – we’ve had a home finalist for the last four years and that boosts ticket sales.
“We’re working on things like the kick-off time so that fans can come in and ultimately stay in Wales.”
Challenges of later Guinness PRO14 final
MA: “It wasn’t our decision to play it in June, it was a World Rugby calendar decision. There are positives, it’ll be drier.” He quips.
“It’ll be at a time where there are less clashes. We always clash, from a broadcast point of view with the FA Cup final, the Scottish Cup final, Champions League football.
“There was always a challenge around that from a media point of view.
“It was always hard to get charter flights. We think it’s going to be great.”
World Rugby ‘Global Calendar’
MP: “As far as we’re concerned now the calendar up to 2032 is locked in. Everybody’s working to that.
“The flipside of that is I don’t know many organisations where something stays the same for 12 years.”
That calendar is October to June.
MA: “Our challenge was to make the season flow better. We’ve done a bit of that – we changed our format but more needs to be done.”
No B&I league on the books
MA: “We’ve got a good product, we love it. The fans are loving it more and more and so we’re going to focus in on the good bits and what we do well – and differently.
“We wouldn’t have this interest from sponsors, broadcasters and fans if we weren’t doing something right. On field we’re delivering what the unions are asking us to deliver.”
Discussing the idea of a British and Irish league he added, “That’s all news to us. We’re focusing on the PRO14. We love the Champions and Challenge Cup so we think we could do more to help them grow.”
MA: “I am still a fan personally as I like the game growing in territories where I think it should be strong. I love the idea of rugby being strong in America.
“Are we the best way for that to happen now they’ve got a domestic league? Probably not.
“We aren’t pursuing it anymore but what we are pursuing is how can we help Ross Young [CEO USA Rugby] grow the game out there.
“We love South Africa; we think the potential there needs to be realised. Anybody who is watching the Currie Cup will know the Cheetahs are going strong, top of the table and have a home semi-final against the Sharks.
“We need to make the Kings stronger. My job is to make sure the bottom of the table is as strong as the top half.
“I want 14 to be strong. When you don’t have promotion and relegation the bottom half of the table needs to really push the top half.
“We’re getting to one to eight being strong and we need nine to fourteen being able to beat the top half on their day.”
CVC investment in the Guinness PRO14
MP: “It’s all just speculation. Sport is changing very quickly, and we can’t sit on a competition or a format and think you’re ok for the next five years.
“Cricket is enormously topical right now and they’ve done a very good job of reinventing themselves.
“They’re a good example of what any sport has to do. We in rugby are aware that we need to keep changing and evolving to stay relevant or become more relevant.
“There are clearly private equity organisations interested in rugby, they’ve invested in PRL (Premier Rugby Limited – English Premiership).
“There are quite a few interested parties out there and so what we’re focused on doing is making the competition and product the best we can make them.
“The other big dynamic is broadcasting. There will be a shift at some point. That market will change. That’s all in the mix and we’re close to that but there’s no concrete decisions yet.”
MA: “It’s important that we have a strong competition and business for our clubs but in doing that we’ve also made ourselves attractive to third-party investors.
“It’s a strange cycle and one we’re not unhappy about but it needs to be approached in the right way.
“Broadcasters, sponsors and third party investor are all in the same group for me – helping the tournament get better.”
MA: “There are just no weekend’s for it, depending on how you structure it. We’re already looking at how to reduce the amount of weekends rugby players play a year.
“It’s a conundrum that no one has come up with the right solution for. That’s why we have what we have, which is a season where our players play too much rugby.
“What we’ve started doing is reduce that burden and make every game more important.”
Creating a competitive league
MA: “We’ve used high performance consultants; we’re involved on and off the field with teams on what they can do better to market and promote themselves.
“Italy as example, we brought in a consultant to work with Connor O’Shea and the FIR (Federation Italian Rugby) to understand where they were going and to help them strategically.”
Dragons have recipe for success
MA: “They don’t need my help. They’ve got a great chairman and have brought in a very capable Director of Rugby; they’ve got a new Managing Director.
“Newport as it was is a strong club, Gwent is very strong, and they’ve done a great job to spread it throughout the region.
“They’ve got a great young squad and my view is that if they just persevere with the strategic plan they’re on they’ll have success.”
Future finals in Wales?
MP: “It’s a balancing act. A lot of it is planning and we’re a lot more planned than we were. We’re at around five years ahead on events.
“First and foremost, it’s a rugby stadium so if we can play big rugby games in there that’s what we’ll be doing.”
Lessons learned from Celtic Park final
MA: We had a great experience with Celtic, but they didn’t know as much about rugby as Cardiff City.
“There was a lot of education from the SRU, Glasgow Warriors and they did very well.
“It [Cardiff City Stadium] works from a stadium point of view as it’s a better space, moving people around the stadium. It’s been recently redeveloped and it’s better suited to modern event life.
“We can learn from our fan zone and we’ve added extra investment into that and made it bigger.
“That’ll be at the stadium itself as it creates a buzz around the stadium. We want people to migrate over there and be in a good mood.”
PRO14 challenged during Rugby World Cup season
MA: “We need media to cover the tournament as it’s easy that all the attention goes to the World Cup. We had Connacht come through during the last World Cup.
“You should watch the Cheetahs this year, they’ll come out the gates flying.”
New destinations for finals ahead, possible
MP: “It felt really odd not having a final in Wales in the time I’ve been here. It’s a big step and I imagine Italy and South Africa would feel the same.
“As a board member of the PRO14 I think the next priorities are Italy and South Africa before we go anywhere else.
“If we spread our wings and take a bit of risk then we owe it to our shareholders.”
MA: “We have plenty of interest from places like Spain, USA, England and different countries but Martyn is right.
“We’ve got our shareholders and we have to look them in the eyes and say have we done enough to support you and your territory. If we haven’t put a final on there then we haven’t.”
Increased incentive for Welsh Regions
MP: “I think it would be massive. The guys would be targeting it and I’m stating the obvious but for everyone concerned I think it adds that little bit extra.
“There’s always been a host in the final the last four years. I would imagine that’s not coincidence. If it gives our guys that extra incentive then that’s icing on the cake.”
Regions aren’t that far behind Irish counterparts
MP: “Ospreys and Scarlets have been as successful in the tournament as any other team. The optimism I have is because the five of us [Regions and WRU] are working together it allows us to deploy our resources more effectively than we have in the past.
“I’d like to think we’ll have a real shot of it following the World Cup and hopefully we come out of there confident.”
PRO14’s Brexit plans
MA: “We’ve done a lot of work with EPCR, understanding the ramifications if it does happen. We understand that from a legal point of view, visa’s, changing our rules.
“We await the outcome, but we’re prepared for whatever happens. It’s just the same with the English league and EPCR, we’ll have to alter our tournament rules, but we await the outcome.
“There’s quite a bit to do.
“There has to be some sort of permit system in place and the administration burden will go up.
“Clubs would apply to the home office and we’d support them any way we can.”
The 2019/20 Guinness PRO14 league begins on September 27, 2019, with the Grand Final to be held on June 20, 2020, in Cardiff.
“Main photo credit”