A Note to Sky Sports from a Pro12 fan..

Thank you for everything Sky, but it’s time to step up your game. Since 2014 Sky Sports have been broadcasting live Guinness Pro12 games across the UK for all to enjoy, with excellent analysis from the likes of Rory Lawson and Scott Quinnell, amongst others.

With Guinness having recently signed on for another four years as headline sponsors, the league is looking in a safe place for the meantime.

Despite lots of speculation about where it’s future lies, Guinness wouldn’t have signed a four year deal, double then length of the current one, unless they were confident in the direction and future of the league. (A cynic might say that if the league unravels it’s lots of free publicity to Guinness, but I don’t buy that!)

So with that in mind, what does Sky Sports need to do to help improve the product on display to fans?

EXCLUSIVITY

Although this opinion may not be popular, I personally want to see exclusivity with a single, subscription based broadcaster, such as Sky.

First of all, it makes it easier for fans in other countries to watch. For example, a fan in Scotland may have an interest in a game between Scarlets and Connacht. At present, if this game was on the terrestrial channels, it’s exceedingly difficult for the fan to see that game, unless they find a stream online.

Now you could argue that there wouldn’t be sufficient numbers to justify broadcasting on the scale that Sky do and that terrestrial channels are better. We can only speculate whether or not that would be the case.

I personally have BT Sport, and as much as I’m Bristol born and a Glasgow Warriors fan, I will watch literally any rugby game, whether it’s Saracens vs Exeter Chiefs or Sale vs Newcastle. If there’s little on the telly, rugby fans may well tune in, even if it’s only on in the background.

Another bonus is that if the fans have to pay for a Sky Sports subscription, there’s a stronger incentive at play and it could potentially have a positive effect on viewing figures. If you’re paying for it- you’ll make the most of it.

THE COST TO THE FAN AND CROWD EFFECT

I want rugby to grow and to be accessible for all. At the same time, I don’t want the Pro12 to financially fall behind the Aviva Premiership and Top14 any further. The ideal would be that it’s free to air for all and all of the leagues are on a level financial playing field.

By having exclusive rights, Sky would have to hand over a larger sum of cash and would in theory receive more in subscriptions to their service. According to a Rugby World article last year, an average Pro12 round pulls in “about 500,000 viewers” at present- but a fair portion of those will be on terrestrial. If Sky can improve the product, they may well change to Sky- that or get down to the grounds.

Furthermore, for those mainly concerned with their own team, it may produce more of an incentive to get to the stadium. With the free-to-air option taken away and the price of Sky Sports, fans may be encouraged to go to the grounds to see the games, as opposed to sitting at home watching them.

That’s not an absolute certainty, but it is a theory that many people spout on social media- it can cause a lot of debate, but it’s worth mentioning as a possibility.

Sadly I have no idea on the actual numbers, but the theory behind it seems fairly good- I would like to hear thoughts or see any numbers if anyone has any.

MORE GAMES PLEASE

Of course the elephant in the room here is the fact that no-one in their right minds would pay for Guinness Pro12 rugby alone on Sky Sports right now. Put simply, there aren’t enough games to justify the hefty price tag at present, with there often being no more than one game on show each week.

More games need showing to justify paying for Sky Sports.

THE HIGHLIGHTS SHOW

For those of you lucky enough to have BT Sport, you will know just how good they are when it comes to giving you a round up of the weekend’s best action. Scrum V in Wales isn’t bad, but I don’t think it quite compares with Rugby Tonight.

Each week BT Sport air ‘Rugby Tonight’- a show dedicated to the Aviva Premiership. They have special features on the teams, game analysis for both international and club games, they run through tactics and moves to explain to to the fans what is happening and why. Then they have the novelties such as the ‘smash-o-meter’ where fans and guests get a hit on a tackle pad ‘measured’ to see who hits the hardest.

For your casual rugby fan or your uber-nerd, this is a good watch. Failing that, ITV 4 showing the match highlights at least gives fans a chance to catch up, instead of having to trawl through the Pro12 YouTube channel to watch all of the highlights.

I ran a poll on Twitter to see what people want to see from Sky Sports to improve their Guinness Pro12 coverage and the message was clear- more games and a highlight show.

OPINIONS ON THE CONTRARY

Interestingly today I read a piece on Pundit Arena arguing for Rugby to be shown on free-to-air TV to help the growth of the game globally. The argument certainly holds merit in the rest of the world where rugby is a minority sport, but when the Pro12 is so financially behind the Top14 and Aviva Premiership, who both have lucrative deals with subscription based broadcasters, I don’t see this as the way forward for the Pro12.

If all Rugby could be on free-to-air TV that would be the ideal for me, but that’s just not going to happen.

CONCLUSION

In my opinion, Sky Sports (or BT, should they outbid Sky Sports) need to provide more games, some kind of highlights and exclusivity. I believe that this is crucial to improve crowds, viewing numbers and most importantly, revenue.

Having just asked for the Pro12 to leave free to air TV, you can use Twitter to hurl abuse at me. Or pleasantly let me know that we don’t share the same views. Or even agree!

Don’t forget to sign up to my mailing list and fantasy league!

The Scribbler, 28th October, 2016

Twitter: @RugbyScribbler

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What’s Being Achieved?- The Italians in Europe

This is something many people have been asking of late.

With Zebre losing 82-14 to Wasps this weekend in the Champions Cup and Benneton Treviso losing 10-41 against La Rochelle in the Challenge Cup, it has renewed calls for the Italians to be played in the Challenge Cup only- allowing them into the Champions Cup when they get there through meritocracy.

It does put into question the integrity of the top tier competition, with the Italians virtually gifting the other teams in their pool 10 points and allowing them a higher chance of qualification from the pool stages as best runners up.

Here, The Loose Head goes into detail on why the Italians would be better placed in the Challenge Cup for the time being.

Check out The Loose Head on Twitter here: @TheLooseH

Don’t forget to sign up to my mailing list and fantasy league, here!

The Scribbler, 17th October, 2016

Twitter: @RugbyScribbler

The Loose Head

Zebre kicked off their Champions Cup campaign against Wasps the past weekend in the Ricoh Arena, Coventry. The Champions Cup is a competition in which the best clubs in Europe get to compete against each other for the ultimate prize in northern hemisphere club rugby. Yet it includes a team that has struggled to compete in its own league since joining.

Zebre scored two tries against Wasps: a driving maul when they had a forward in the bin (which is slightly worrying for Wasps when they face a higher calibre of opposition) and an interception. But they also conceded twelve.

History in the competition proves that a group containing an Italian side usually produces the best runner up for the knockout phases of the competition. This is a very polite way of saying the Italian teams are the whipping boys of the competition. 

Many people took to Twitter saying these…

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A good start for the Pro12 in Europe

You may remember me writing an article at the tail end of the last season about how it was a record season in Europe for the Pro12– the first time that not one team from the competition has qualified for the knock out stages.

It’s very early days, but there are early signs that this year might be better. Here’s a quick look at how the results went and what that means in a wider context.

A Perfect Weekend for Scottish Rugby

4th VS 4th

That’s what it was when Leicester Tigers visited Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Friday evening. Leicester sit 4th in the Aviva Premiership, with Glasgow warriors 4th in the Pro12.

Despite a few injuries on both sides, especially in the Glasgow back-row, both teams fielded strong sides, with a number of internationals present on each side.

On the night, Glasgow looked like a team possessed and scored more points than any other team has against Leicester in Europe as they ran out 42-13 winners.

Edinburgh see off Timisoara Saracens

As was to be expected, the Scottish capital side made light work of the European Champions… Romanian sister club. The Scots ran in 9 tries to win 17-59 away from home.

Challenge Cup not much of a challenge for the Welsh!

Cardiff Blues VS Bristol

Despite a better attacking show from Bristol than in many games, they still didn’t manage to get that illusive win as the Welsh Capital side picked up the spoils away from home at Ashton Gate, final score Bristol 20- 33 Cardiff Blues.

Newport Gwent Dragons pick up rare win

I didn’t see the game, but it sounds as though the Dragons were on form as they dispatched of Brive with five tries to one, final score 37-16 to the Welsh Region.

Ospreys ease past Falcons

Ospreys are in Europe’s second tier competition for the first time ever and they seem eager to prove they’re in the wrong competition as they swept Newcastle Falcons away 45-0, with some brilliant tries, including a brilliant chip and chase from Justin Tipuric.

Wales’ only Champions Cup side, Scarlets see off Sale Sharks

A game which I only saw in part- although Sale looked exciting at times and were pushing right up until the final whistle, ultimately they couldn’t break down the Scarlets and left Parc y Scarlets with a 28-11 defeat.

Italian’s swept aside easily

Sadly, if not inevitably, both the Italian sides slipped to defeats- Zebre by 82-14 against Wasps in the Champions Cup and Treviso 10-41 against La Rochelle in the Challenge Cup.

A mixed weekend for Irish Rugby

Leinster dispatch of Castres

Leinster made light work of the strongest defence in the Top 14 this season, scoring five tries in their 33-15 win of Castres. Despite having only conceded eleven tries to date in the Top14, Castres couldn’t cope with Leinster once they gained some momentum at the RDS.

Connacht go big

We know after their Pro12 title last season that Connacht aren’t to be taken lightly, but after the loss of some key players and some hefty score lines against them, some thought Connacht had lost it.

Alas, their 23-21 win over European giants Toulouse well and truly announced them to Europe, as they held out right to the last minute to secure a vital home win. Are Connacht back?

Bordeaux finish with a flourish to down Ulster

This game was fairly tight throughout, with the teams never more than seven points apart. That was all to change though after 72 minutes. Sebastien Taofifenua went over, followed by a penalty try and a try from left winger Blair Connor. The final result was 28-13, perhaps not a reflection of how close the game really was.

Conclusion

I absolutely don’t want to get carried away, but that was a good start. Of the nine Celtic teams playing this weekend, only one lost.

Now there are many games to come, but the early signs are good. Hopefully soon we’ll have a bit more of an idea of just how much the Rugby World Cup affected the Pro12 sides last year.

I’m not going to say what or who I think will make the play offs, but the Pro12 sides didn’t do any harm this weekend.

Now, take the positives of the weekend, keep grounded and lets see what more our sides can do next week.

Finally, a word for Anthony Foley and Munster

This morning the Foley family, Munster Rugby and Irish Rugby lost a loved one. Munster coach Anthony Foley was found dead in his Paris hotel room, aged just 42.

The Irish veteran epitomised what it meant to play for Munster and Ireland and you only have to hear what the likes of Paul O’Connell say about him to realise that.

I think Ben Kay sums it up nicely here, from the perspective of a fierce rival.

In his playing days, Foley made two-hundred-and-one appearances for Munster and was capped sixty-two times for his country. He played eighty-six European ties, three European finals and three semi-finals. He was later appointed head coach at Munster, working this season alongside Rassie Erasmus.

On what has been a brilliant weekend of Rugby, it’s a shame that Foley won’t get to see his Munster side give it another crack, but you can sure bet they will be playing to make him proud this year. As with everyone in the rugby community, I extend my thoughts to the Foley family at this difficult time. Rest in peace Axel.

The Scribbler, 16th October, 2016

Twitter: @RugbyScribbler