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Volume 7 No. 130
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Hangin' With ... Pro14 Rugby Commercial Dir Dermot Rigley

Dermot Rigley says the league's media exposure has increased by 25% since it added the Southern Kings and Cheetahs.
Photo: Pro14 Rugby

DERMOT RIGLEY is the commercial director of Pro14 Rugby. He oversees the organization’s marketing, communications, sponsorships, events and digital activity across the five countries represented by teams participating in the championship, which was expanded last year to include two South African franchises. Pro14’s Final Series, which begins on Saturday, will lead up to the Guinness Pro14 Final at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on May 26. This year’s event will include a Festival of Rugby, which was created in partnership with the previously established Dublin 7s festival. Rigley spoke to SBD Global about the upcoming Guinness Pro14 Final Series, the Final and its surrounding activities, as well as the potential for further expansion.

On Pro14’s addition of the Cheetahs and Southern Kings ... 
Dermot Rigley: We were trying to kick it up to the next level so we expanded it to South Africa in September. It was a really lucrative move for us. It was also to get our hands on some southern-hemisphere rugby. It was a great combination because it’s the first time having a link between northern and southern hemisphere club rugby. This was a major move for European, top-level rugby to have a direct umbilical cord, so to speak, to the southern hemisphere.

On the '17-18 Pro14 Final Series ...
Rigley: We have a whole knockout set of games. We have semifinals, we have qualifying semis and, obviously, we have the final. So, we’ve gone from three knockout games to six when you include our playoff game for the European Champions Cup. From fans' perspective, this is really good. You’re going to have bigger attendances, you’ll have bigger TV ratings -- because you’ve got knockouts, you’ve got jeopardy rugby. We’re trying to find ways to improve our tournament and improve our standards. And on the competition and performance side, hopefully, we’ve done everything in a good way for fans and broadcasters alike.

On Pro14’s broadcast partners …
Rigley: We have SuperSport in South Africa, we have Eurosport Discovery in Italy and then we have the BBC and Sky Sports across the U.K. and Ireland. These will share our games, depending on who’s doing the host broadcast. Sky will do the vast majority of the matches in the knockout series. Next season, we will welcome Premier Sports in the U.K. and eir Sport in the Republic of Ireland (LINK TO TODAY'S STORY).

On the impetus for creating the Festival of Rugby at the Final ... 
Rigley: We were looking for a way to bring this onto the next level. Part of that was trying to create a festival event in the build-up to it because we’ve got a lot of fans traveling in. We had a fan zone for the first time ever last year, but we only had it on the day of the actual tournament itself. So, how could we get onto the next level? We wanted to partner up with the Dublin 7s festival. They’ve been going a couple of years and we came up with a great system, where this became our fan zone. We’ve invested in this and it’s created two to three days of really top-quality music, top-quality rugby, top quality events.

On the festival’s appeal …
Rigley: We get to have some of our top rugby stars in this, top sports stars, celebrities. It just creates -- instead of having a final, which is a huge event on one day -- and a fan zone around that, you’re getting a long weekend. It’s a great build-up to it. You’re going to have great 7s rugby, great bars, VIP bars. You’re going to have the broadcasters down there getting interviews to play back into the stadium and on the networks as well. So there’s a lot of great content for fans and broadcasters.

On sponsor activations during the Grand Final weekend …
Rigley: Guinness are going to heavily activate and drive traffic through there. We’ve got a lot of new partners this year around our Irish final. We will have Honda, and they are going to be heavily supporting some of the women’s rugby there, as well. We’ve got our health food partner, Freshly Chopped, that will have a whole concession stand and do a lot of activation with fans and families. All of our partners will be activating there because as well as activating at the national stadium, they’re going to be activating in the fan zone, which is literally about a five- or six-minute walk away.

On deciding where to host the event …
Rigley: In the year of expansion, Dublin made sense. Dublin is a market that has a high demand for rugby. We decided to stick where we are because we know it works. But we’ve got five countries. We’ve got five really strong rugby nations. We want to get out and see the fans in all countries -- and it’s only right and proper that we do that. … What we’ve created is a template, whereby this can actually travel with us. So, when we announce where we’re going next year, we’re going to continue this festival.

On South Africa’s impact …
Rigley: When you open up a market the size of South Africa as part of the tournament, you get added value immediately. That is reflected in some of the renewals and some of the deals we’re doing. Because we’re in the media so much -- I believe that since we’ve expanded, our media exposure has gone up 25 percent -- there’s a lot of brands we’re talking with at the moment. But for us, the brand has to fit and has to fit where we’re going -- because we’re in a unique position of offering brands multiple continents from a rugby perspective.

On the possibility of expansion to North America …
Rigley: U.S. is certainly not off the table. But the timing’s got to be right. There’s been a lot of interested franchises from there, but what we really want to do is let MLR [Major League Rugby] get off the ground and watch that and see how maybe we can support that. But, definitely, U.S. is one we’re watching closely, without a shadow of a doubt.

Hangin' With runs each Friday in SBD Global.