Date: Tuesday 8th May 2018
Time: 6.30 – 8.30 pm
PRW: Mark Davies, Antonia Lamont
Ospreys: Supporters Club: Grant Berni, Keith Collins, Nigel Jones
Dragons: Official Supporters Club: Dan Hallet
CBSC: Sarah Hopkins, Dave Ellsmere
Crys 16: Barrie Jones, Ian Lewis, Gareth Payne.
1. Judgement day
2. RSA and future for SA teams
3. New TV deal and sponsorships
4. Fixture notification and spread of fixtures
5. Appointment of match officials
6. Relationships with WRU and Regions
- Judgement Day VI
First point was raised by CRYS16, that its members were unhappy with seating arrangements on Judgement Day. Fans of the regions were unable to sit together which contributed to lack of atmosphere. CRYS16 asked whether in future each Region could be assigned a Block/Tier in the stadium so that supporters could be together. Others present echoed the feelings that their own fans had raised the same concern. MD pointed out that Judgement Day was a tri partite agreement between the Cardiff Blues, Dragons and the WRU. Pro Rugby Wales supports the organisation and promotion of Judgement Day as the representative organisation for the four professional teams, but is not contractually responsible for the event with no financial stake. However, MD confirmed that he was more than happy to raise the matter and will speak to Craig and Martyn at WRU on behalf of JSG.
MD and AL acknowledged that it seems reasonable that the commitment of the season ticket holders of the four professional regions (circa 15,000 supporters) who back their teams all season long, should be recognised in the organisation of the Judgement Day event.
Attendees from Cardiff Blues and Dragons pointed out that their own fans felt somewhat short changed with the arrangements. As they correctly pointed out, it is their home fixture, but their own fans also experienced ticketing difficulties. MD asked about arrangements when e.g. Ospreys attend Parc y Scarlets. It was however agreed that this is a different scenario as in that instance the Scarlets has to work around their own ST holders. Judgement Day at the Principality Stadium is more of a blank canvass. Dragons and Cardiff Blues fans group have raised the issue with their own clubs and with the WRU but to no avail so far. One suggestion was that ST holders be located in the middle tier of the Principality. Again, MD confirmed he would mention this request when he speaks to Craig and Martyn.
Another issue is the ‘gap’ between the two matches. Some fans leave after the first game, whilst others arrive in time for the second match. MD and AL confirmed that the extended gap between the games is driven by the broadcast timings due to separate BBCW and S4C transmission “slots”. It may be possible to improve this position with the new Broadcast partners, so MD will investigate with Craig.
JSG members also raised the opportunity for season ticket promotion and sales at this key event. They believed more could be done to entice new season ticket holders at this event as it attracted a wide base of support from inside and outside Wales.
MD outlined that the new collaborative digital data system that has been adopted between WRU and the 4 Regions on the initiative of Martyn and Mark Killingley, should allow greater transparency and sharing, subject to data protection legislation and new rules effective May 2018, to allow greater targeting re ST sales pre/post JD events. MD stated that certainly, it has had a significant impact on both season ticket and match day ticket performance so far.
It was noted that Blues & Dragons representatives confirmed that the current Judgement Day agreement runs out at the end of next season (May 2019).
MD was asked to provide an outline of progress towards a new agreement with WRU. MD confirmed that the Current RSA agreement will run until 2020. PRW, the Regions and WRU have been working together on the direction of a new agreement for the past 18 months. Unlike the previous situation, there is now complete agreement that the international and professional club game are inter-reliant. The international game still generates the greatest revenue to fund all levels of the game, including the Regional game, with the four Regions providing the development platform that results in the International players that generate the revenue. MD confirmed that Martyn Phillips is very clear about the relationship of inter-reliance and the ongoing work around governance in the professional game is based on developing a truly collective structure and relationship for the professional game in Wales.
Martyn is leading the work to develop a sustainable model that will work for Wales with the objective of ensuring the professional and community game both have the focus and investment they need to thrive, driving and using both central and local resource. The direction of the new agreement is currently being worked in parallel with changes to the governance of the WRU which is designed to ring fence and protect the Community game as the foundation of the sport, while establishing a Professional Game Board which will be properly constituted, with the right skillset and able to make decisions. It will be made up of WRU Representatives, Regions Chairman, independent Non-Executives and an independent Chairman. In answer to a question from JSG, MD confirmed it will be similar in concept but much more effective than the PRGB briefly convened in 2012. MD confirmed that both Martyn Philips and Gareth Davies are committed to creating a PRB with the right level of experience and skill, working together to deliver sustainable and successful professional rugby in Wales. That degree of true cooperation with the right skillset is not something that Welsh rugby has been able to deliver previously.
Progress is being made on the body of a new Operating agreement (RSA), with all parties approaching the task from a new perspective and a “clean sheet” with clear objectives. WRU and the Regions are now working hard on properly understanding how to achieve the objectives and in what timescale. There is a real intention that the rugby and commercial sides of the WRU and the four professional clubs will work together to achieve the aims.
Representatives continue to meet on pretty much a bi-weekly basis and are making steady progress on an operational agreement with proper objectives for Welsh Rugby. To do that requires a level of stark honesty to recognise the current situation and a focus on what is required to achieve success. All parties need to understand & agree how they interact and put all of this together in one place. MD said he was ‘really encouraged’ by the work being done to put together the collaborative framework that will deliver results in the club game and the 2023/27 World Cups.
Representatives of the JSG asked about the timeline for this being completed. MD said that as the existing agreement lasts until 2020, all parties were focused on agreeing the right framework rather than imposing a timescale, but that at this stage he believed there would certainly be something ‘more solid’ by the end of this year (2018), perhaps a little earlier. MD once again stated that Welsh Professional Rugby was in a ‘very different place’ to the time at which the original RSA was signed. A coherent agreement is being worked on between the WRU and the 4 Regions, but of course must also be led by the changes in WRU governance, which go to their AGM in October. MD is confident that a good outcome for the game can be reached.
- South African involvement in PRO14
It was agreed by all in the meeting that the involvement of the SA teams has gone well. MD said it was felt at PRO14 that it was “really good, better than expected”. Whilst the Kings have struggled due to the fact that they had lost their player base and had no pre-season, the Cheetahs did make the play offs at their first attempt. MD confirmed his belief that with their first break in 18 months, a full pre-season and effective recruitment, both teams will be stronger next season. All four Welsh professional teams have reported that they have benefited from their trips to SA in that squads have had significantly more time together.
SARFU have been delighted with the exposure of their regions to differing rugby styles in the NH. The SA national team will similarly benefit in the longer term. It is also working from a commercial viewpoint, in that SA has a big rugby market (57m). The PRO14 so far however have not tapped into sponsorship outside of the TV companies and there is more work to be done from next season onwards. However, PRO14 are now looking to appoint someone on the ground in SA to exploit this opportunity. SA rugby is massively supportive, especially of the community activity that the visiting Pro14 teams have undertaken and are very proud that the SA government has commended SARFU for the way in which rugby has tackled diversity and achieved their inclusivity targets. At the same time, SARFU are undertaking some internal restructuring, including expanding the number of professional franchises from 6 to 8, which may result in more opportunity for Pro14 expansion at some point in the future. All the franchises within SA are, of course, watching the Cheetah’s and King’s progress in Pro14 with interest, along with the strategic review currently being undertaken by Sanzar/Super Rugby.
MD stated that we shouldn’t underestimate that we now have 5 tier one rugby nations playing in our competition – 50% of the tier one nations that exist.
Asked about the financial benefit from the SA agreement to the Regions, MD stated that of course the Regions still have to manage every single £1 of cost and revenue, especially with player salary inflation running at 26% pa over the last 2 years, but progress has been made to increase revenue into the Regional game, including the RSA (compared to the previous PA), Pro14 Destination finals and increased sponsorship, the introduction of the SA teams and SA broadcasters, the UK & Ireland revenues from new broadcast partners and, of course, improved Commercial activity at a local level. MD hopes that despite the massive increases in player costs, the constant efforts of everybody in containing costs and driving revenue means that the Regional game continues to offer tremendous value for money for supporters, with significantly different styles of play and game plan across 5 nations and 14 clubs, compared to any other league competition.
- Broadcasters Update
In responding to the request for an outline of the new broadcast package, MD gave the following overview. Sky Sports business model is clearly driven by the high costs of securing football coverage, so it is perhaps understandable that rugby is not a high priority for them and their bid reflected that. At the same time, following their joint bid with Sky being unsuccessful, the bid from BBC Nations (Wales, Scotland, NI together) was most disappointing and did not in any way reflect the value of the competition. Again, from a business model point of view, that may relate to the public statements by the Head of BBC Sport that their strategic direction is Olympic sport, though we have no way of knowing that for sure. The BBC bid was a Nations bid, there was no separate bid by BBC Wales for Wales rights only.
Conversely, Premier Sports and EIR business models do not include a significant football cost base and in addition to their superior bids to secure PRO14 they both confirmed their intention to making the competition their number 1 priority product which was a key factor in the decision of the Pro14 board. Pro14 Rugby will be their main priority sport, so will be prioritised in their broadcast platform, rather than being dictated to by transmission times, other sports and programming.
PRO14 will have greater editorial engagement in the style and tone of coverage and how the competition is projected to viewers, including the tone of the presenters. There will be additional investment in ‘magazine’ type programmes, both before and after each weekend, to add value and understanding of the game.
There is also a very significant commitment to marketing promotion of PRO14 outside their own platforms. There are targets to reach for subscribers via PRO14 so there is a mutual benefit in making this new relationship a big success. MD said he felt the new deal was a ‘game-changer’ for PRO14 and that the new broadcast partners were working on making the coverage ‘fun’ and ‘energetic’ and believed there was more scope and freedom to create a great product on TV.
In addition to the very substantial uplift in revenue from the new agreements, Premier Sports coverage will give much easier access to PRO14 games on channels in England for the first time, reaching a wider audience, whilst every game being covered live will help lift International broadcast values, so there is a wider context to what is being done.
The new broadcasters have also made it clear that their stated aim is to sit down and work with each Club in the league to understand the differences “under the skin” and to identify what would suit their individual requirements re kick off times. This will be a significant help in resolving the frustration of match day scheduling, however it may prove difficult to satisfy everyone.
JSG asked if there is any progress in agreeing S4C coverage in addition to the Free sport Free to Air coverage already confirmed as part of the Premier agreement and MD confirmed that S4C had made their commitment clear throughout the negotiations, were doing all they could to reflect a fair value for coverage of the competition and he is hopeful Pro14 will be able to confirm local language arrangements for all countries, including Wales, now the main platforms are confirmed.
JSG asked if the broadcast changes meant that Pro14 can release the fixture schedule earlier, perhaps at the end of the season, to make it easier for supporters to plan their season. MD confirmed that the limiting factor in confirming scheduling is the two Welsh Regions who share grounds with football clubs as the Premiership and EFL rules mean that Football has priority. So PRO14’s hands are tied until the football fixtures are released in the 3rd week of June due to the Dragons and Ospreys’ ground sharing arrangements.
Because of that limitation, PRO14 intend to confirm fixtures in early July to the clubs for final approval – with fixtures being announced 6-8 weeks earlier than last year when the delay due to the negotiations for the entry of the SA teams meant fixtures could not be confirmed until mid-August.
JSG asked if there was any concern that loss of BBC Wales coverage would impact on the crowds and profile of the PRO14 in Wales. MD confirmed that of course this would be tracked carefully but based on the experience of other sports and the explosion of digital communication, he did not believe that would happen. The supporter is choosing to consume content in very different ways, based on different age profiles and convenience, so the impact of conventional broadcast is not as great, particularly among the younger viewers who are the future. The Premier and Freesport platforms will mean that for the first time every Regions’ supporters can watch every game their Region plays at their convenience for less than the cost of a pint a week. That gives much more value to the supporters of the game and as always, they will be the ones that encourage others to attend or watch the games. At the same time the Free to Air coverage from Free sport and, hopefully, S4C will enable people who are unable to attend matches a selection of Pro14 rugby every single week at no cost.
When asked about any concern about affect on participation, MD suggested that participation is driven by activity on the ground in Clubs and schools as, practically, young people consume very little conventional TV, preferring other platforms and bite size digital clips. The new platforms provide Pro14 with much more opportunity to drive the digital marketplace and multiple delivery.
MD confirmed that based on his understanding the vast majority of the Regions’ key partners and local sponsors were very supportive of the new platform as they fully appreciate the financial challenges of the Professional game in Wales and recognise the need to secure increasing revenue to meet increasing costs.
Supporters also raised question of the subscription fees and was there a risk these prices would go up after year 1 and MD stated that whilst he understood the concern, he felt it was unlikely given that Premier Sports are seeking to build a subscription and customer base rather than lift revenue from a limited number of customers.
- Match Day Officials – PRO14
Once again there have been a lot of positive changes this season in the management, development and selection of Match Officials, however it is understandable that these will not be clear to supporters. Naturally, the implications of the SA clubs joining, with additional games and additional travel has been a challenge to manage within our pool of officials, some of whom are limited by their main employment. Pro14 has been successful in accelerating its development programme, with several new referees introduced this season, though a combination of the more complex logistics and costs, together with a recommendation that we work with teams of officials that have a working relationship, has meant that we have not been able to implement full neutrality. From a Coaching point of view, the coaches are clear that their preference is for capability of officials, particularly referees, rather than neutrality. For the assistant referees the same applies, though the Referee Managers have recommended the officials “team” approach as most effective. However, there remains a perception amongst fans that officials are not always ‘neutral’ when they officiate, which is an issue for the competition regardless of reality. Greg Garner, the new PRO14 Elite Referee Manager from August 2017 has reviewed all the structures & processes in place and is continuing to plan improvements for next season. The changes made so far have been positive and welcomed by both referees and coaches, particularly the disciplined review process of each round of matches, which is completely objective, based on full analysis and shared with both referees and coaches. Given the massive contribution of Pro14 referees to European and International competition, Referee development continues to be of paramount importance, and next season will see 2 new referees from Scotland reach Pro14 level, 1 from Italy and 2 from SA, including one of their top referees. Greg continues to review the consistency of TMO decisions and performance, together with their neutrality of TMO’s, which is severely compromised by the fact that most TMO’s are limited in their ability to travel as they are all amateur. In addition, the multiple broadcast partners included in our previous model resulted in marked differences in the technology support provided to each TMO by broadcaster. This issue is removed by the new Broadcast platform. Greg is considering the creation of a “TMO panel”, working the same way as the “Referee panel” to grow the number of TMO’s and so the number of options, he is also reviewing the direction taken in the NFL, where a studio ‘bunker’ is utilised with a panel of 3, rather than an on-site TMO.
- Relationship with WRU and Regions
It was felt that this point had been adequately covered, so no other discussions took place on this issue on the agenda.
Question was raised by CRYS16 re Dragons funding by the WRU. Some disquiet had surfaced with the conflict of interest as the WRU are now part owners of Dragons. MD made it clear that those concerns had been voiced and debated at length, but that the direction the WRU and the Regions are now taking together is resulting in a complete transparency across all 5 entities, including financial information. As the new structure evolves, based on clear & agreed objectives there should be no need for concern regarding fairness of treatment or potential conflict of interest. Dragons new Chairman and Board are making a significant contribution to the development of the new structure and being completely open with their business and rugby information.
Meeting closed at 8.50pm.
We’ve been talkinmg to the Old Inn in Penllergair and we’re pleased to annoucne that they can offer Ospreys Supporters a 15% discount off their food bill! The Old Inn already have a massive range of offers throughout the week we’resure supporters will see the value this can bring on top of what they already offer.
T’s & C’s
Available to ALL Osprey Season Ticket Holders (tickets must be in date)
Not available Xmas Day, Mothers Day & Easter Sunday
Must be inclusive of food (not snacks – so meals from our menus & specials boards)
The Scarlets Community Team have very kindly offered to help supporters with group bookings for the Boxing Day game.Prices as part of the group bookings are as follows:
Under 6: FREE
CHAIRMAN’S OPENING REMARKS
The Chairman opened the meeting by setting out the key objectives of the OSC as set out in the Constitution.
He stated that some people believed that Members of the Committee simply turned up on match day and stood around in the Riverside and 2003 Lounge doing little else. This could not be further from the truth.
At this point the Chairman thanked his fellow Committee Members for their voluntary work and the hours they devote to the OSC.
He went on to say that everybody on the Committee had an important role and that all the work done was without payment or reward.
He conﬁrmed that there was no ﬁnancial assistance received from the Ospreys save for the supply of signed shirts and balls for raﬄe prizes.
There were no freebies nor beneﬁts. Indeed, when buses were run, and functions organised, Committee Members paid the same price as all Supporters.
The Chairman advised the meeting that there were regular meetings with the Ospreys and there were on occasions, diﬀerences of opinion.
The Chairman conﬁrmed that the Joint Supporters Group (JSG) continued to ﬂourish and that meetings regularly took place with Martyn Phillips (Chief Executive WRU), Mark Davies (Chief Executive Pro Rugby Wales) and Martin Anayi (Chief Executive Guinness Pro 14 Rugby).
The meetings allow the four supporters groups to raise issues which they know supporters want aired. When considering the amount of work undertaken by the Committee, it was extremely irritating for all concerned and indeed upsetting for some, when keyboard warriors take to social media to question the Committee’s integrity and motives.
The Chairman outlined the diﬃculties in organising social events due to the high price in Stadium use, unfortunately, the costs were prohibitive. The OSC were fortunate to have free use of the Pavilion in Llandarcy although numbers at that venue were limited.
It was hoped that a further Q & A would be arranged before the end of the year.
Finally, the Chairman referred to the new Supporters badge and the OSC’s support of Alun Wyn Jones’s charities during his testimonial year.
The secretary began by thanking the chairman and the rest of the committee. He was a founder member along with Mike Phippen and was pleased that everything put in place at the start had come to fruition.
Grant Berni runs the Neath bus. Melanie and Nigel Maggs have until recently run the Port Talbot bus. They have had to stand down from that, but a group of supporters have taken over the running of the bus.
Five buses were organised for Judgement day and a bus was organised for the home/away ﬁxture against Stade Francais.
It was Ray Morgan’s dream that we create something of a rugby club with a bit of post match atmosphere in the Riverside, hopefully we have gone some way to achieving that.
OSC contribution to the match day programme is down to the good work of Sarah Davies and Louise Collins.
The OSCA is another success, due to the fact that it can only be won and is not for sale, it is quite sought after by the players.
Badges are also popular with sales of old badges still popular.
AWJ was granted a testimonial year as a result of a request from the OSC.
Social media is also on the up, with nearly 10,000 followers on Twitter and 2,300 on Facebook.
The website is a great addition to the supporters club, Grant Berni doing a sterling job in setting that up and maintaining it.
The Q & A was well received by those who attended.
Finally the secretary said that he hoped the OSC worked for the beneﬁt of all during the season.
Bank Account has a balance of £3124 after all Income and expenditure. If the sponsorship doesn’t materialise at least we have enough funds to cover the cost of the GROGGS this season.
The committee was grateful to Gower Brewery for their sponsorship of last seasons GROGGS. At this point in time we are unsure as to whether they are continuing their sponsorship.
The GROGGS have increased in price to £125, £500 to be sent to the GROGG shop to pay for the next four.
The OSC has had no funding from the Ospreys apart from the ﬁrst year of their inception.
Last year the Ospreys paid for the badges with all proceeds going to Ospreys wheelchair rugby. This year following a suggestion from the Chairman, the OSC decided to do something diﬀerent, instead oﬀ OSC they were inscribed with AWJ, with all proﬁt being donated to AWJ’s chosen charities. The Ospreys for whatever reason can’t be seen to be supporting the testimonial year and therefore were unable to pay for the badges. The OSC paid the £555 inclusive of VAT, the down side being we were unable to claim the VAT back.
Since the OSC’s inception we have supported many charities. Last season we raised £212 for Phil Lewis’s chosen charity, £280 for Aberavon Greenstars ,£1000 for the wheelchair rugby, and £200 for Interburns a charity that Jeﬀ Hassler and Tylor Ardron were involved with.
Previous to these we have raised money for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal, Cwmtawe Brass Band, Stepping Stones, Gleision Miners Appeal, St Davids Hospice, Maesteg RFC, Wales Deaf Rugby, Wales Wheelchair rugby,The Matavesi Fund, Jerry Collins Fund, and Paul Harris’s Marathon.
Total raised since the OSC’s inception is £8103.
Request received from Mark Bennett Jones re members of supporters club to assist with a promotional video 6pm on Wednesday.
OSC were asked their views on the 2003 club. The change was going to be brought up with Andrew Millward, but his secretary had cancelled the meeting. Our view was that the Ospreys had taken their eye of the ball as regards the ordinary supporter and that was a mistake. Two members of the 2003 said that Andrew was very vocal during the Q&A and seemed to take their complaint re communication on board but they are still waiting for a reply.
The OSC AGM will take place on Monday 25th September at 6pm at the Liberty Stadium.
All season ticket holders (mambers of the OSC) are welcome to attend.
The Ospreys have asked us to share the following information with supporters about the forthcoming Challenge Cup game(s).
Please can you direct any queries directly to the Ospreys.
Tel: 01792 616488
|As with all season long hospitality memberships; Quarter Finals and Semi Finals are not included however as a Worthington’s 2003 Club season long member you will be given priority to purchase your current hospitality package and also be given a 10% discount off the match by match price.
Worthington’s 2003 Club package;
You Pay £9pp
After a record breaking perfect 30 from 30 points in qualification, the Ospreys go into the quarter finals as top seed.
Tickets for the home quarter final go on sale 1pm on Monday 23d January – this is NOT covered by season tickets (it will be live on BT Sport). The date is TBC due to Swansea City playing at home on 1st April.
We weren’t sure we could surpass last years effort so we’ve reigned in some help this festive season!
The advent calendar will sit on the Home page until the end of the month, but here it is in all it’s glory
And for those who missed the 2015 OSC Advent calendar – here it is again!
Wednesday 2nd November 2016
Liberty Stadium. Swansea
Cardiff Blues Supporters’ Club Sarah Hopkins and David Elsmere
Crys 16 Ian Lewis and Steve Hiscocks
Dragons Supporters’ Club Dan Hallett and Matt Andrews
Ospreys Supporters’ Club Nigel Jones, Keith Collins and Geoff Jones
Pro 12 Martin Anayi
Pro Rugby Wales Mark Davies and Antonia Lamont
AL opened the meeting at 6.45pm by welcoming everyone and thanking Martin for taking the time to do a return trip from London to Swansea to meet with JSG. Everyone present agreed that JSG would take the notes of the meeting for circulation to members afterwards. AL thanked JSG for their support for the recent derby games. AL ran through the list of questions that had been provided by JSG and their members in advance of the meeting and explained that they would either be picked up by MA and MD in discussion or could be specifically picked up by JSG.
MD echoed AL’s comments and said that PRW thought that meetings with the JSG was a constructive way to communicate on a two-way basis with supporters of regional rugby. MD confirmed that PRW as an ‘organisation’ consists of purely of one CEO and one Head of PR which is only contracted as a part time role – realistically and pragmatically with this resource the most effective way to communicate on complex issues is via the JSG – which is why, for example a conference call was arranged between all parties recently on the derby fixture scheduling.
MD thanked CBSC, OSC and DOSC for attending the meeting via phone conference the previous week which had been useful in setting the scene in advance of the recent derby games. MD confirmed that JSG will remain the primary means of communication on key issues as the official supporter network.
Martin Anayi, CEO of Guinness PRO12 (MA) introduced himself and said he welcomed the opportunity to meet with JSG. He explained that he had been working in his role with GuinnessPRO12 for 12 months and during that time a number of key changes had taken place to create a stand-alone organisation with a dedicated team of people recruited to solely focus on promotion and development of the PRO12 Championship – not 6N or British and Irish Lions.
He believed that this was already seeing real benefits for the Pro12, although it was still early days.
MA priority in starting the job was to do something that hadn’t really been looked at before, which was to look at the Guinness PRO12 from a customer’s perspective. The feedback from supporters had been reviewed and already good progress was being made against the supporter ‘wish list’ but it would take time to get it right.
One of the main areas of feedback given to PRO12 was relating the fixture scheduling. Sunday fixtures were universally unpopular and supporters wanted regular kick off times on Fridays and Saturdays. Substantial changes have been made in this area with SKY Sports being asked to give up their exclusivity to Saturday games as a result of fan feedback. JSG asked about the impact of KO times on families with less afternoon games making it difficult to bring children to games. MA said that in order to meet the very clear demand for less Sundays and standardised KO times, this had been an unfortunate outcome and one that needed to be considered going forward. JSG recognised that it wasn’t easy to please all stakeholders but asked that this be a topic for future discussion with the group.
MA and MD outlined the significant complexity and time taken to renegotiate and existing contracts to allow the fixture moves from Sunday to Saturday included detailed discussions with key broadcasters to satisfy all needs; a lot of work had taken place to standardise KO times out to round 13 – this is further than the English Premiership as they have one broadcast partner and PRO12 has 7.
The discussion turned to refereeing standards with JSG sharing several aspects of concern about the quality of officials and the impact that this was having on games and the supporter/player experience. MA stated that the other main issue raised by supporters to PRO12 in previous feedback and surveys was that of the officials. MA explained that whereas in England any issues with referees centered around the issue of capability (as all refs were English refereeing English teams) he had been concerned previously at the questioning of the integrity of officials in the PRO12 which seemed to be based on their nationality. Any such assertion, whether perceived or otherwise, would have the potential to have a negative impact on the championship. PRO12 had spoken extensively to all of the coaches last season who they had said that their main concern was that of quality of officiating, which was more important to them than neutrality at this point.
MA and MD explained the first priority for coaches was that PRO12 referees were deemed to have the right capability levels above and beyond merely being neutral appointments (as it was previously). Therefore based on the coaches feedback, PRO12 took the first step of creating neutral TMO’s and AR1’s (first touch judge). This has been achieved and significant cost covered by additional sponsorship so no impact to distribution to Clubs. Referee development key item but, like players, cannot develop referees overnight. Review of season to date taking place end Nov which will include referee appointments, decisions and development needs as well as assessment process.
JSG asked about the development of referees and MD confirmed that Ireland and Wales were already well on with developing a good pathway for officials. MA and MD outlined that Ireland and Wales have mature competition structures that allow development and fast tracking of referees across multiple competitions. They are now including Scottish and Italian development referees in those pathways to fast track new referees. PRO12 now has a defined Development Group of referees from the 4 countries with a focus on fast track.
JSG noted that a detailed discussion had taken place the previous week with MD about scheduling, and the recent derbies and a full explanation given. However, given the questions and feedback from supporters, JSG asked for further comment from MA.
MA explained that it was a very complex process with all 12 clubs submitting individual requests to the tournament director in May (this might for example include the Welsh regions requesting a specific weekend for Judgment Day). Then any stadium restrictions had to be accounted for. MD added that this was particularly complicated in Wales due to two of the stadia being affected by football (Ospreys and Dragons) and one being affected by events at the Principality Stadium (BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park).
By the end of May, all clubs requests are taken into account as the Tournament Director creates a draft schedule. In June, once the Football fixtures are released, all stakeholders in the competition clubs, unions, broadcasters are provided with the weekend schedule for formal agreement at the end of June.
The next step is for the broadcasters to make their ‘picks’ – their requests and this season the impact of the requests from PRO12 supporters for less Sundays and more standardised fixture times had to be negotiated into the contracts. This is then circulated back to the clubs who feed back to the Tournament Director for formal sign-off mid-July. A two-week gap is then given before public announcement to allow Team Managers to book travel. The ‘Big Weekends’ approach as an exciting and vital new development in the competition to raise profile and effectiveness as a Championship was agreed by all Stakeholders in May; but dates have to be agreed across all 4 countries – ie Judgement Day date has to be agreed by Ireland to ensure Irish derbies take place same weekend and vice versa if any requests from Ireland/Scotland/Wales.
Big Weekend at round 7 agreed and signed off by all parties end June, so everyone involved missed the implication of overlap with call up window in Wales and MA and MD apologised to supporters that had been unhappy with R7 schedule although they outlined that the call up window in Ireland also overlapped but there had been no issue in Ireland. MD outlined that it was positive that the derby weekend had seen strong crowds and two great games of rugby from the wider squad players entertaining supporters without all internationals being available. MA pointed out that if the round had been inter-Union then Welsh regions would have been up against full strength Scottish or Italian sides who did not have the additional international weekend call up.
JSG thanked MA for his honesty and said that this openness with the wider supporter network previously might have prevented some of the comments posted on social media. MD said that PRW and PRO12 both feel strongly about being open with supporters and per the previous week’s discussions, the primary focus was to support the Clubs in the build-up to the important derby fixtures and to project the positive aspects of these games. JSG were supportive of this position as had been agreed at the previous meeting.
MA went on to say that there was now a bigger commercial balance between club championship and international levels and that both recognised that there were mutual benefits for success in both arenas, from a rugby perspective and a commercial one. MD said that the current relationship between the regions and WRU had been transformed over the last 12 months and that it was now much more of a partnership approach to rugby and commercial activity.
MD outlined that particularly in Wales, for the success of Welsh rugby, club and international rugby are completely inter-reliant. MD emphasised the complete ‘partnership’ approach is currently working well in Welsh Rugby.
JSG asked about the move to an improved season structure. MA said that all parties recognised the need for less games in the season and that this was a hot topic everywhere. MD said that contractual arrangements were in place until 2019 and there was lots of work behind the scenes on developing options to plug the commercial gap that would inevitably be left by less international fixtures.
JSG asked about the value of continuing to have the Italian teams in the GuinnessPRO12. MD said that all aspects of the ‘product’ had to perform and if any area was not contributing or was affecting the quality or integrity of the championship, then that would be reviewed. MA said that the Italian market for rugby was generally struggling and PRO12 were active in trying to help them develop commercially. There are also participation agreements that had to be honoured.
JSG asked how PRO12 was considering its uniqueness (4 nations clubs) as a selling point and point of growth. MA said it was important that the PRO12 did not shrink but that it grew, and a discussion was had about the great opportunities supporters had to travel within this competitions, although logistics and costs could be prohibitive.
JSG asked whether there were plans to expand the PRO12 championship. MA said that standing still or going backwards was not an option and that PRO12 had to look to grow. MD added that PRO12 was equally being pursued by other parties. His view was that this was inevitable given that there were only 4 professional leagues and two of those are ringfenced.
JSG asked whether expansion would be likely by adding a development league and MA said that this was not on the agenda as improving quality was of key importance. This was currently an issue with others seeking a place in the PRO12 as even countries such as the USA and Canada don’t have a substantial structure in place as yet.
MD said that another advantage of the PRO12 was how flexible and open to change the participants were.
MA said that wage inflation remained a big factor in our game and that although revenues are increasing, wage inflation in still increasing at a faster rate, although there had been discussions at EPCR recently about this issue.
JSG asked about future TV deals and when the next one would be negotiated. MA said that the next cycle of deals starts in the 18/19 season and so this means going back to market in around April 2017. PRO12 are currently working on agreeing our proposition and packages so that we can place ourselves to get the best commercial deals. MD said that previously the PRO12 had not been sold as an exciting ‘product’ and a lot of good, positive work was going on behind the scenes in this area.
MA said that the recent improvements in attendances, TV viewership and digital engagement was helping the brand and the product which should, in the longer term, drive more investment in the PRO12.
AL said that the PRO12 would be seeking to engage with supporters again via survey to gain more feedback on the competition and would work with JSG to get detailed feedback from their memberships to inform PRO12 and PRW on the specific views of supporters in Wales; to help shape and focus forward activity to help provide the best possible customer experience for supporters of the PRO12 competition.
AL said that she would work with JSG to arrange a wider consultation session for the members of CBSC, Crys 16, DoSC and OSC in early 2017 and thanked everyone for attending.
JSG thanked MA, MD and AL for their time and for the frank and constructive discussions, reiterating that this was a great format to jointly discuss and communicate relevant issues on behalf of members and the wider supporters base.
Meeting closed at 9pm.