With seemingly perpetual negativity surrounding the league from some quarters, it is necessary to highlight the qualities of the competition and how it is growing and improving every year.Since Guinness came on board as sponsor in 2014, the competition has gone from strength.
As mentioned in articles gone by, the commercial value that the ‘Guinness’ brand brings should not be underestimated. Guinness are a brand long associated with rugby, having previously sponsored competitions such as the (now) Aviva Premiership. They bring a huge amount in advertising and even aesthetic. The black and gold of the Guinness Pro12 and snappy nature of the title is far more attractive than the clunky orange and blue that was the RaboDirect Pro12.
The next hugely positive step is the destination final. Since the introduction three years ago, we’ve seen attendances of around 18,000 in Belfast 2015, 34,000 in Edinburgh last year and finally over 44,000 in Dublin this weekend, including (according to BBC Scrum V) over 12,000 Scarlets fans (questionable). As opposed to a last-minute booking for fans of the finalists, it provides a great event for rugby fans everywhere. Dublin this year was graced with fans of all nations and has even begun to attract fans across from other leagues. It provides excitement with a new destination each year and the prospect of seeing some of the best rugby players in the World go head to head. Here’s to hoping for a big crowd in (fingers crossed) Rome next year!
The brand of rugby that is played also cannot be faulted. You look at the last four winners for example- Leinster, Glasgow, Connacht, Scarlets. They all did that by playing an exciting style of play, one that encourages kids to play our sport and inspires the imagination of fans. It’s no wonder that teams like Connacht and Glasgow have grown their supporter base so much over the last few years. To top it off, whilst there are some marquee signings such as Charles Piutau, Ruan Pienaar and Willis Haloholo, the teams also develop a great amount of home-grown talents that feed that national teams and the Lions. The league and its teams are producing top quality talent, that’s going out, competing and crucially, beating some of the best rugby clubs in the world. Just watch how Scarlets overcame European Quarter Finalists, Leinster.
The list of Champions becomes relevant again when you look at the winners of late; Glasgow brought Scotland their first silverware of the professional era, Connacht provided the perfect under-dog story in a magnificent season and Scarlets became the first ever team to win an away semi-final, before winning their maiden Pro12 title. For all the talk of Irish dominance, it’s a truly open competition, with sides getting stronger and stronger every year, making it a genuine contest. I have every confidence that under the reign of Connor O’Shea the Italians will begin to push on in the competition- they’re the weak link in the operation as it stands. Perhaps they won’t be winning it anytime soon, but surely, they must reach the stage where they’re no longer an easy five points
Finally, Pro12 Rugby are listening to fans. They’re looking to improve the competition. Every season they do surveys, actively look to see what the fans in the different countries look for from the competition. Some good examples are the new Pro12 travel twitter- looking to try an encourage and facilitate fans travelling to more away games, the improved availability of stats and the addition of the fantasy league this season. Just this week, Pro12 travel were looking to charter a flight for Scarlets fans looking to go to Dublin.
For all those that tire of the expansion talks of the Pro12, I say allow it. What it says to me as a fan is this; they’re aware there’s a financial gap to bridge and they’re not afraid to experiment in ways to close it. Of course, I want the solutions to be effective and not rushed, but I see no issue in a bit of innovation with regards to boosting revenue streams to keep up with the rest of Europe.
To see my thoughts have changed from a year ago, look at last year’s Pro12 analysis.
Any thoughts appreciated, just fly me a tweet or an email.
The Scribbler, May 28th, 2017