The Guinness Pro14 has aspirations to become the best club rugby championship in the world and is already making good progress towards that aim, according the league’s chief, writes Duncan Smith.
Captains and coaches from all 14 teams were in Glasgow yesterday to launch the 2018-19 edition of the cross-border competition, which kicks off next weekend, and chief executive Martin Anayi, pictured, is adamant that the goal of topping the cash-rich English and French leagues and southern hemisphere Super Rugby is achievable.
“Absolutely. If you look at different metrics as to how you measure that, I think with a lot of metrics we have are already there,” he said. “In terms of the competition on the pitch, in terms of coaches that go on to work at national level, so a lot of metrics are going in the right direction.
“Off field, we’ve made big strides to close the gap with England and France from a commercial point of view, and all of that is to make sure that we can return that revenue back to the Unions so that they can continue to invest in their clubs, regions, provinces to keep the best players and coaches there. I absolutely believe that it will be – if it is not already on certain metrics – the best competition in the world.”
Last season saw South African sides Cheetahs and Kings join the Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Italian clubs to make the Pro14 the first trans-hemisphere club competition and Anayi says that further expansion remains an objective.
“We’ve already done it once. We’re already cross-border. We’ve created a concept and a format which allows us to grow again,” he said.
There had been talk of a possible move to include teams from North America but Anayi said that the emergence of a professional Major League Rugby across the Atlantic had put that on the backburner.
“We’ve been quite close to that development and continue to be. Largely, it is about what’s good for the game,” he said. “If that means supporting Major League Rugby, then that’s what we’ll do. It hasn’t gone off the agenda completely. It’s just pivoted into a different direction.”
This season sees the start of a new TV deal with subscription channel Premier Sports, which will show every Pro14 game live, with sister channel FreeSports showing one free-to-air match per week. Production company Sunset+Vine will deliver the coverage.
“Around viewing figures we haven’t discussed it, quite honestly,” said Anayi. “We were really hot on bringing a partner like Sunset+Vine, who they have brought in to produce the content at a very high level. If the production values are high, the viewership will follow as the value is good.”