The latest in the series of Ricoh Rugby Change videos looks at arguably one of the most important events in the game, the dawn of professionalism. The series investigates the impact professionalism has had on rugby union since its conception in 1995, the fundamental changes in the way the sport is run and consumed as well as the future.
Much discussed at the time, professionalism finally became reality after the World Cup in 1995. It was aided by media moguls who piled in money to make the sport commercially viable.
The success which followed moved the game up to another level but wasn’t without its controversies. 1997 saw a reformed Four Nations tournament which excluded England due to a television rights dispute between the competition and Sky broadcasting. Both eventually settled and England rejoined the Five Nations.
Club rugby was the biggest winner in the new professional age with the Super 10 in the Southern Hemisphere becoming the Super 12 in 1996. It has since boomed to almost uncontrollable proportions with the current system of 18 teams in 2017.
TV has invariably played a massive role in investment within the game and bringing it to audiences that would otherwise not be exposed to rugby. Emerging markets such as the US have benefited greatly from increased television coverage.
As ever, there are downsides to professionalism such as the constant pressure of playing, putting on a spectacle and avoiding potential commerical minefields. But amid these inconveniences, it is without doubt that professionalism has been a positive force for good in the last 22 years.