Thu 10th November 16 :

Rugby Expo 2016: event review


Club rugby can continue to grow fast and its core values are central to its success in a highly competitive sports environment.

Those were among the messages from Premiership Rugby CEO Mark McCafferty to delegates in a packed conference hall on the opening day of Rugby Expo 2016 at Wasps' Ricoh Arena in Coventry last week.

McCafferty was reflecting on the progress made in the first two decades of professional club rugby in England and singled out the role of television in helping the game broaden its appeal and build a new audience.

Gates, which were often in the low thousands at the dawn of the professional era, averaged a little under 14,000 in the last full season with 'Big Games' at Twickenham and Wembley helping broaden the game's appeal and significantly swell the numbers.

And as sports vie with each other and other forms of entertainment for eyeballs and sponsorship spend, McCafferty believes that rugby's core values of sportsmanship, inclusivity, fair play and respect, will help distinguish it and stand the sport in good stead in the years ahead.

McCafferty was just one of the highly influential individuals to take part in Rugby Expo's Day One programme which considered the development of club rugby union and rugby league from the perspective of administrators, the back-office, players and broadcasters.

Heath Harvey, CEO of English and European Champions Saracens, David Armstrong, CEO of hosts Wasps, Nathan Bombrys of Glasgow Warriors and Mike Rush of leading rugby league side St Helens ran the rule over issues ranging from the salary cap and international calendar to succession planning in a session chaired by former Harlequins and Melbourne Rebels chief Marc Evans, while former Wales international Tony Copsey was joined on stage by current Wasps stars Kurtley Beale and Guy Thompson, former Leicester and England wing Leon Lloyd and rugby league legend Paul Sculthorpe to consider the pressures as well as the opportunities facing players in the modern game across both codes.

Attention turned to technology and its impact on key revenue streams in the sport as the afternoon session kicked off with Microsoft's head of sports projects Stewart Mison, managing director Derek Palmer and SnapRapid's Adam Barker addressing the busy conference room.

Delivering the inaugural Spirit of Rugby lecture, Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis also looked to the role of broadcast partnerships in maintaining the health and momentum of rugby against a background of changing consumption patterns among fans.

"Today it is about providing sports content to be viewed at any time of the day on any device," he said.

"Last year 75 per cent of our most popular rugby union and rugby league programming was watched on mobile phones.

"We have to ensure that rugby remains relevant in this box-set, smartphone dependent age. Rugby union and rugby league are fantastic sports and the technical innovation we have introduced has played a vital role in developing both codes.

"I see this as the dawn of a new Golden Era of broadcasting and the challenge for everyone in this room is to embrace technologies, form stronger partnerships and work even harder to attract the next generation of players and fans."

On day two of Rugby Expo, attention turned to the community game, as representatives from clubs across the country were invited along to hear from some of the key decision makers influencing the sport at a grass roots level.

The RFU's head of education development Mark Saltmarsh & head of game development John Lawn tackled young player transition and retention in the morning's session; a challenge faced week in week out by clubs nationwide.

Workshops continued throughout the day aimed at addressing wider issues within the sport including player welfare, age grade rugby, volunteers and artificial playing surfaces.

There were also presentations from Pitchero CEO Mark Fletcher, who presented their new 'Pitchero Play' service and AFL Architects' director of sports John Roberts, who profiled the organisation's work with Clifton Rugby Club.

The final main stage session of the day gave delegates the opportunity to put forward questions to an expert panel comprising Premiership Rugby's community & CSR director Wayne Morris, the RFU's head of club development Simon Winman, head of community at Wasps Neal Coupland and Pitchero CEO Mark Fletcher.

To register your interest in Rugby Expo 2017, visit