There was a warm welcome for the Rugby Business Network yesterday at Kingsholm, the home of Gloucester Rugby. Businesses came together to network and talk about rugby and business in a no fuss, no pressure environment, as well as hearing from our 2 great speakers. There were many topics on the menu, but at the top of the list was both world cups.
First up was Amber Reed, England International, Bristol Ladies player and member of this year’s world cup winning squad. Trying to grow the women’s game has been on the agenda for some time, but off the back of the World Cup there is a concerted effort to try and improve not only the numbers of females involved in the game, but also the media coverage.
The men’s game is professional so a world cup experience in the men’s game is completely different to the ladies. I asked Amber about her personal experience of the world cup and also those of her team mates.
Amber initially focussed on her feeling after that winning match saying I’ve always dreamed of playing for England. I picked up a rugby ball, following in my dad’s footsteps and I never dreamed I’d play in a world cup, let alone win one!”
“The main thing that sticks in my mind is standing in the middle of the pitch with all my team mates and looking around the stadium. I don’t think I took any information in, I just kept looking around asking if this was actually real”
On a more serious note, the route to participating in the world cup isn’t as easy for the women as for the men. Amber is lucky in that she has an understanding boss who allowed her the time off for training sessions, camps and ultimately, the tournament. Some players had to make the difficult decision of representing their country or leaving their jobs – a massive decision to make before even getting to step foot on the pitch of a world cup match.
When talking about growing the women’s game, Amber was very positive. “The south west is a fantastic area for rugby in general and Gloucester have just started their women’s side too. The more clubs we can get to develop women’s teams, the better the game will grow”
Gloucester brings the number of premiership clubs with womens teams to 5 but there’s still plenty of work to do at grass roots level to bring young female players into the game. The RFU launched their initiative in September off the back of the world cup win, with the aim of getting 100,000 women and girls introduced to the game of rugby.
“It’s about getting them to try the game” said Amber “Whether that’s at contact level, tag, touch rugby or 7s. The more people we can get in at the bottom of the pyramid the more will filter up to the higher levels”.
When asked about media coverage for women’s rugby (and female sport in general), or rather the lack of it, Amber remained positive in her outlook. “The media is a fantastic tool, whether that’s for men’s or women’s sport. For female rugby in particular the more we can get out there in the media, the more people will hear about it and watch it. The key thing about women’s rugby is that there are some gender stereotypes out there about the types of people that play. That’s just the way it’s been for the last 20 years. The more media coverage there is, the more likely we are to break down those stereotypes. People will see that it’s a fast and exciting brand of rugby”
So, what of the future for women’s rugby? Well, it’s nowhere near where we’d like to see it yet, but there has been some massive progress. There are strategies in place to get more women and girls playing and it’s hoped that there’ll be at least 10,000 more women playing in the game before the next world cup comes around in 2017. Some of the England 7s players have been given a professional contract which is a step in the right direction, following on from New Zealand, Australia and Canada who went professional last year.
Amber said “7s is an exciting and fast paced game and with it being in the Olympics and also introduced to the commonwealth games the media coverage that will bring can only be good for the women’s game in the future.”
On a lighthearted note, when asked about who will be ‘gunning for us’ at the next world cup, Amber gave a very succinct analysis of the performance of some of this years participating teams including New Zealand who, of course won the previous 4 world cup titles. She didn’t quite put it this way, but I think the general feeling in the room was that New Zealand will want that cup back!!
Next to take the spotlight was Gloucester’s very own CEO, Stephen Vaughan. Stephen kindly spoke at one of our events last year where he gave a very frank and open view of the clubs performance both on the field and off. So we started off with a continuance of that subject.
There have been many changes in the playing and coaching team this season and when asked about the changes and the unsettlement and challenges this can bring Stephen had this to say.
“It’s been a busy summer; holiday’s cancelled etc. to get done what we needed to do. There’s been a lot of change and with change comes uncertainty but we sat down with everyone and assured them that we’ve got to a great place and things will sort themselves out”
Stephen went on to explain some of the reasoning behind the changes telling us that they looked at high performing teams in sport generally, not just rugby, to see what the commonalities were. What were they all dong that was making them successful and one of the things that came out was that they all had longevity in their coaching departments. None of those top teams had been making changes year after year.
“Having been at the club a year, it didn’t feel to me as though we had that stable environment” said Stephen “We had a choice. We could carry on as we were or start again and try and build that. We decided on the latter”
He went on to say that those successful clubs had strategists that dealt with the clubs strategies for academy, medical, recruitment etc. and a coaching team that just coached. At Gloucester they’ve also worked on their culture and environment too, keeping everything simple with everyone knowing what they’re doing.
“It’s not rocket science” he said “There’s no magic ingredient. It’s just everybody knows their jobs and we’ve got a talented group of players coached by some good leaders. I’m pleased to say we got off to an OK start this season”
Stephen though, is under no illusions. It’s going to be a tough season and staying up in the top 6 will be hard, let alone getting up into the top 4. “We’re not counting any chickens” he said. “We’re still behind some teams in terms of stability, but I know we’ve got the talent and it will click”
We then went on to talk about the world cup and its impact on the club and the surrounding areas. I think many people were surprised to hear that even though Kingsholm is a venue and all 4 matches are sold out, Gloucester themselves will in some respects lose out as they cannot capitalise on the club facilities while those matches are being played. So, just like the businesses around them, Gloucester rugby are thinking ahead and looking at ways they can make the most of the world cup.
Drawing on his experience of running London 2012, Stephen not only had good advice for businesses about marketing themselves well, but also some words of warning.
“One of the negatives that I unfortunately saw in London 2012 was people thinking they could make a million pounds in that month. You need to really think about that. People are here for a few weeks and you want them to come back. They are not daft. If you start putting up your prices they’ll just go next door.”
He told businesses “You need to get creative and start working out what’s going to make you stand out in the crowd. Not everyone will want to come into or stay in the city. If you’re rural, then market to that crowd”
Gloucester themselves are putting up fan parks and are considering their options in terms of dinner packages etc. They are having to get creative too. Stephen left us with 2 key things to think about
- Don’t forecast like you’re going to become a millionaire overnight – it won’t happen
- Think about the long term gain – get these people to come back. Give them a great experience while they’re here and they will come back. Think about the small things.
When discussing ticketing for next year, it goes to show status means nothing. Stephen, like many of us was not successful in his ballot application for tickets last month. He did use his inside knowledge as a host venue to explain some of the ticketing situations that have been applied at venues which shed a tiny sliver of hope for one or two people in the room. Although he was quite clear, if any more tickets do get released, they will be few and far between.
Stephen finished off by emphasising that he is passionate about giving fans, supporters and sponsors the best value for money he can whilst sustaining the club and he is very driven in his pursuit of that.
Thanks go to Gloucester Rugby for providing the venue and food for the evening.
The next event in the South West is the Bristol event being held at Mercedes-Benz in Bristol on 13th November. For full details click here.
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