A secondary plate trophy is a winner for teams, fans and the tournament itself

22-Oct-2015

© Martin Seras Lima

www.telegraph.co.uk 

Right now we could be looking at a Japan v England final or a Georgia v Fiji final or a Japan v Italy final if we had a Rugby World Cup 2015 Plate tournament. How many of you would go and watch a knockout game between Japan and Fiji or Fiji v Samoa and the like?

A concurrent plate competition is already a well established concept in every 7’s tournament and simply means that the third and fourth placed teams in the pools do not go home, they go into a separate competition and play for a tangible reward, even though not going through to contend for the main trophy. It works well and though the logistics would be different for the 15-a-side counterpart there is no good reason not to introduce it in future world cups.

Before we go into the details of cost and practicalities let’s look at some of the criticisms faced by World Cup 2015 in establishing the tournament to maximise revenue. There were not enough tickets; prices were too high; not enough games outside London; many rugby grounds were ignored and so on.

A plate competition, restricted to Tier 2 teams only, held at traditional rugby stadia, all outside London (including the final,) with tickets at maximum price of £20, would go some way to assuaging such concerns. Those seven extra games would have a grassroots feel about them and it would be easier for families and kids to attend.

Until the last two tournaments these games might have been of questionable quality but that is no longer the case. When you bear in mind how well the Tier 2 teams played in the pool games, you can see from the prospective plate draw that these games would be well worth watching.

It is ridiculous that Japan won three pool games and had to depart without even the possibility of competing for some sort of prize. Many of players from teams that have now left these shores have expressed frustration at what they see as unfinished business. They would learn much from knockout tournament rugby, something they do have the chance to play normally.

Given the week's gap between knockout phases of the main tournament, plate games played midweek would sustain the rugby narrative in the sports media news for the whole week and create a raft of new stories.

It is this separate entity that would be of most help to Tier 2 countries. They are never going to win a main tournament, if they were they would have risen to Tier 1 ranking before the draw, but the possibility of winning a recognised prize within the context of a Rugby World Cup would be hugely beneficial.

Tim Crow, CEO of Synergy, is one of the world’s leading sponsorship experts and he had some interesting comments about this idea. For him the main benefit for participants is not just winning the plate, it is how the teams could get increased sponsorship on the back of it.

“It is well established that, say, women’s tennis being played alongside men’s tennis, athletics being held within the Olympics, generates more for those sports than if they were not held under what is known as ‘Mega-event halo,’” Crow says.

A rugby parallel is that a for a team’s sponsors winning a RWC plate would be much more valuable than the existing Pacific Nations tournament. This increased sponsorship would help Tier 2 teams as much as their existing handouts from World Rugby.

Crow believes that it would be possible to attract extra broadcasting revenue and increased sponsorship for this extra prize. He says: “Rugby World Cup have gone down the Champions League route of having unique activation rights – i.e. MasterCard Man of the Match. There is no reason why one of those rights could not be the naming right of the Plate Trophy and that would be a valuable right.”

Although nobody can specify how much extra revenue would be generated, Crow does not think £3-4 million would be unrealistic.

The staging costs of a plate competition would be around £3 million and ticket revenue, assuming full grounds would be around £2.5 million. A plate competition would thus be at least a neutral and probably a positive financial initiative.

When you put all these things together the argument for creating a subsidiary competition is irresistible. One caveat is that you do not want to establish a model that would not work in most hosting countries and that might preclude some bidders. Once created such a competition has to be sustainable, at least in the medium term and for me it should be for Tier 2 teams only.

The only thing standing in the way of this positive step forward is the attitude of some World Rugby members and the clubs that employ many Tier 2 players. If they have the will, there is a way.

How the plate competition could work:

 

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