Tuesday Apr 11, 2017

A closer look at how Professionalism has changed Rugby

A closer look at how Professionalism has changed Rugby
20
Comments

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.

20 Comments

  •  aeddanberry
    aeddanberry

    I disagree that all players are low IQ gym rats when they used to be 'doctors and attorneys'. Just look at the current Wales squad, Jamie Roberts and Hallam Amos have Medical degrees and AWJ has a Law degree. So the calibre of those attracted to rugby hasn't diminished with professionalism, but it has also opened the game up to new demographics which is a largely positive thing. I agree that the onus now is on size and it is detrimental to the average person, and to the game as a whole. But I am unsure how much more dangerous it is to play now than it was in the past. We're just more aware of concussions and longer term brain injuries. At an amateur level, people are more aware of the benefits of size and gym training, possibly to the detriment of skill and enjoyment at adult level. So we do need to ensure that those social C & D sides are still encouraged, whether that be with weight parameters like they have in NZ at junior levels or something else. Professionalism hasn't ruined rugby it's just made the gap between those that get paid to play and those that don't that much more apparent.

    Reply
  •  larry
    larry

    Unfortunately money could be a reason why so many seem to drop out of rugby at a young age, before they are 25? If one isn't going to make money from it, is that person asking why play at all and risk getting hurt, because other people are playing for money, and getting hurt doesn't have the same personal risk? Participation levels are down in the sport overall. How many clubs are left, amateur clubs, with extra d or c sides? How many are having to scratch to just get 15 on a pitch on Saturday? I really regret that those who ran the sport twenty years ago failed to introduce professionalism on some sort of time table, bringing pay into the game gradually, starting with the best players first, the internationals. By now there could have been the Aviva Premiership anyway, but I'd say the participation level of the sport might not have suffered had there been a real structure set up to develop a professional game in 1995. Just saying, in August of 1995, the game is now "open" was not the way to do it. All one has to do is look at what happened in Wales a few years later to find proof that it was all done wrongly.

    Reply
  •  larry
    larry

    I agree, but you know the game is never going to go back to its total "amateur" status. Of course there were always the better players who got 'boot' money or had jobs set up for them. Most players played for not one red penny. What could have been done? If you look back there should have been allowances for the best players to become semi-professional. Pay for playing in international matches for players on the national squads would have been a good start to transition to a professional game, and that should have been done with the very first world cup. In other words, 'broken-time' pay for those leaving jobs temporarily to play the game at the highest level, and that pay could have been from the money made from ticket sales, the rear ends in seats. Just think that the majority of rugby league players a half century back had day jobs! They got little enough in pay to have to work to make ends meet. Of course the highest administrators of the Rugby Union didn't see it that way, unfortunately, regarding union players, but those league players were at best semi-pros in the American sense of the term, as back then semi-pros in America, as there were then semi-pro basketball and softball leagues, were considered amateurs and eligible for the Olympics. NBA players weren't, because they were fully professional. All that changed of course in 1992, and there are few semi-professional players of any sport left in America today. I would hope that amateur rugby would not die because pro rugby put it out of existence, but when one sees clubs that were once two or three sides deep now only with one side, something is wrong. Participation levels are dropping for adult-level rugby.

    Reply
  •  larry
    larry

    For those who played the game for the love of it we are more than likely a bit nostalgic about how the game used to be. But just how many in rugby today are fully professional players? And just how many are playing for the fun of it as amateurs? Apparently the participation level in amateur clubs is dropping, and this is a concern. I spent a weekend in early March in the West Midlands at the home of a president of a club that has existed since 1991, so a rather 'young' club, and it had two sides. Now it has one, as some better players have quit and moved up a few divisions to clubs that pay 50 quid per game, and one made it to Gloucester. If it's happening to that club, it has to be happening to other clubs. I spent the next week in Devon, meeting socially with a few referees of that union, and was told of some clubs that are down to one senior side that had two or three in the past, in Cornwall and Devon. So, if young men (and women) see that there's no chance to make any money from the sport, are they just giving it up at age 18 or 22? In other words, why bother because one might get injured playing, and not get one thin dime out of it? Is that the current attitude in the UK and other major rugby playing nations? I live in California, and can tell you that the game really isn't expanding in this nation, the USA, like some say, and California is and has been where the game is strongest. It has grown the last two or three decades, for those between the ages of 13 and 22, in schools, from junior highs to universities (boys and girls/ men and women). It is not growing at the men's club level. Many clubs that were three sides deep now have just one side. "Pay" still consists of setting up better players with jobs. Last year's "pro" rugby competition lasted just that one year. It's too late now, but thirty years ago, with the first world cup, pay out of gate receipts should have been arranged for internationals, ONLY, allowing for semi-pros!

    Reply
  •  breakaway
    breakaway

    The problems for professional rugby are many and difficult, we all know that. But if the game had not gone professional in the 1990s we would now be about twenty years into a situation where elite international rugby is split irrevocably into amateur and professional camps. A professional game, cut loose from the traditional union administrations, would be tarting itself up to be more "appealing" in ways that are maybe best not contemplated. It would be luring the best talent and dominating media exposure because it would be travelling hand-in-hand with highly cashed-up media interests. If you suspect that today's game is influenced a little too much by those who see it mainly as a media product, we only have to contemplate this other scenario to imagine how bad it could be. Meanwhile the amateur game would wither into irrelevance at the international level. I played rugby for many years and have been watching it for many more, and believe it's in good shape in most of the ways that are important. I can't speak from the point of view of a player anymore, but I love to watch rugby probably more than is healthy. OK, the scrums need fixing, they're better than they were 5 years back, but they're much worse than they were 25 years back. I hate the music played at grounds during stoppages, I'm not interested in microphones on players and other bits of nonsense, but I have no doubt things could have been a whole lot worse.

    Reply
  •  mise
    mise

    agree 10 st 10 - that video was a horrible piece of spin, esp at the start. Expanding the game in general and the current pay per view trajectory are not the same thing! For the facts of viewership (which helps with expanding the game) see this excellent article by Dr Paul Rouse - not just rugby, but it is so telling in how the move to pay per view reduces the audience - it _does not_ expand it. http://historyhub.ie/the-impact-of-pay-tv-on-sport.

    Reply
  •  finedisregard
    finedisregard

    DrG, you're correct. In every way other than spectatorship and size of players the game has been diminished. The spirit isn't what it was. Money ruins the purity of sport every time. All the cool stuff came from the amateur nature of the game. Rugby (and all sport) should be a hobby and not a profession. Professional rugby from a safety and monetary PoV is not sustainable. Most pro rugby organizations are not profitable. With the post professionalism focus on size, strength, and speed comes catastrophic long term brain injuries. If it was a bunch of part-timers weighing around 200 lbs. we could have played forever without the game being neutered. Now it's a bunch of low IQ gym rats playing a union/league hybrid and spending their off time with supplements and playstation. We used to be doctors and attorneys...

    Reply
  •  hoot
    hoot

    Excellent thread guys. But cheer up, it's not all doom and gloom. For one thing, England are good again! :-) For another thing there are plenty of players who still seem very grounded, Owen Farrell, George Ford, SBW for example. If some wingers want to marry a pop star and employ a hair stylist, good luck to them. I think they will always be the minority.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    The hood bling thing, isn't relevant yet... but look at the few naughty bits of behaviour from a few of the modern lot.... The islanders are a different breed, they have a lot of respect for what they have been given in this world, and their faith on a whole tends to keep them pretty grounded. It's the modern bunch in the western world that get cash and then splash out with ridiculous purchases and ridiculous attitudes to suit. Football is coming to a rugby stadium near you...

    Reply
  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    If the USA play an "on paper stats domination" game plan like the Springboks of 2007 and 2011 did, in 20 years they will be challenging for the World Cup. Outside of NFL, NBA and NHL, there are still millions of athletes to choose from

    Reply
  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    That is because the 2000ish team spent their amateur career in a pub. It is the prescribed route in amateur sport... retirement is opening a pub and hanging your shirt on the wall with people calling you a legend, the older you get, the better you were, even if it was only 1 cap off the bench. The hood bling thing isn't that relevant in rugby. Look at the talent abuse of the Pacific Islands, humble people offered a living they could never dream of, and still they are on half of what team mates are on... and nothing given back to the Islands by the clubs or the companies. America are targeting the "Football Failures". Guys training as professional athletes their whole lives until the D-Day of the Draft, then left with nothing but a compromised education, a list of injuries from head to toe, and a 40yd dash with nowhere to use it.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    *** in reference to that bit... perhaps there is call for rather than a rugby business intrusion into the areas, more of a rugby missionary intrusion, we can wonder their lands with rugby law books and balls, build pitches all around the areas and basically teach them the errors of their soccer ways....

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    Yeh sorry RD, I do understand what you mean, especially when you look at the grass roots levels in many parts of Africa - where there is a relatively non existent local introduction, I can imagine the same could be said for much of Asia, so no harm in introducing it to these guys *** and same to you 1010.. I suppose the problem is more that development is not a flat increase, it's a pointed increase, so whilst in one developing country, you may get a bunch of blokes say "shit I love this stuff, it's brilliant, I'm a massive fan of the game and the play and this new found camaraderie"... in another "developed country" you'll get some fair weather supporter telling you how much of a shit team your country has because their country is incredible and it's going to demolish you etc, only to vanish off the face of the earth when his team either loses, or the competition is over... those are the sorts that make me cringe. 1010, you mention the money side of things... it's a tough one, you see it in a lot of professional sports where peoples stories start off with "yeh, I was born in the hood and I got myself out and that's why I got my ridiculous cars, my ridiculous bling, my attitude that says I'm above anyone else".. footballers are a prime example - (and it's not just them, rugby players do it too), drink driving, mad speeding, petulant on pitch attitudes, temper tantrums etc - I understand that there is shit attitudes in all life, but it seems to be the more money the less sense with some of these guys. When you consider on the flip side of things, you have guys like the 2000'ish era players, starting up restaurants and going into punditry etc, things like that, you get a sense that these blokes are still somewhat grounded.... Is money the correct reason to go into rugby? Maybe I'm not really knowledgeable enough on the subject to properly comment with anything other than 'feelings' and 'opinions'..... ...but then it's never stopped me before...

    Reply
  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    Rugby culture is a strange one. Football fans will buy the new shirt every season regardless of cost. Rugby players won't... for 2 reasons: 1) Pro-fit shirts only look good if you can bench press a car, pie-stains are hard to wash out of a pristine white England shirt. 2) Real fans respect a faded, torn, haggard cotton shirt from 1998 with a big patch number on the back. It is an unwritten rule in the bars, the oldest shirt is served first. There is also a lack of world class players. Like RD has said, rugby is still in the development stages, it is largely ignored by developing countries... but again, this is due to financial constraints. NFL, AFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Football, and to some extent Cricket all offer overnight success. Kids grow up dreaming of making it in those sports because of the money. For a lot of people, sport is their only option. 16yr olds earn 20k a week in Football. Rugby is lucky to make that a year as an Academy lad, why risk breaking your neck for that little? Dare I say it though, due to Union's perceived Middle/Upper Class heritage, players do not face the same pressures. There is less drive as there are more fall back options through staying in Education/playing at Uni. I have played alongside lads who were offered contracts while still at school, but they turned it down. One is now a practicing Lawyer, another an Architect. Only now is Professional rugby seen as a viable career by the outside world. Too many people on and off the field have the mentality of "it is just a job". Players are now "assets" in the financial sense, why risk a loss venturing into unknown countries and markets? AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH

    Reply
  •  rugbydump
    rugbydump

    There is nothing wrong with expanding the game, both locally and abroad. There are many countries where the sport may have been around for a while, but certain individuals just haven't been exposed to it yet for whatever reason, cultural or circumstance. Once it comes into their lives, they love it, and the sport grows. Some regions of the USA and Europe are prime examples of this. Perhaps those new players and fans might even become your 'decent rugby types' that you're after ;) That said, the corporate side of it at the highest level, while necessary, can be quite nauseating.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    Yeh but I'd assume that if you are a 'decent rugby type' and you don't know rugby by now....well, then you deserve to be trapped in a cave...

    Reply
  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    This could easily be re-titled "How Corporate Culture has affected Professional Sport". Playing to "put arses in seats" is too risky for the people in suits. Shareholders want a steady and healthy return on their investment. The problem isn't so much that there is money in sport, it is the divide between the have and the have nots. (where have I heard that before?) In the grand scheme of things, Pro rugby is still in the developing stages. It might not seem it, as it has been >50% of the majority of player's lifetime, but 22 years is NOTHING. Before, there were 2 coaches, maybe 3 if you were really lucky. Backs, Forwards, and the Gaffer. Now there are coaches for every conceivable part of the game plan, skills, lifestyle, nutrition etc. 1 geriatric chain smoking lawnmower wielder has been replaced by a team of "playing surface technicians" who don't use post holes as an ash tray. Rugby turning professional has created legions of top level jobs within the wider rugby community, and official structures to help people get into the game. Someone owes their mortgage to watching clips of the opposition and compiling notes, if their advice to step to a player's right ends up in a try and win, with the television/sponsor/ticket revenues, the role has paid for itself 5x over. The natural rugby talents still can't be beaten though. We can't join them, so we pay them more than the others to join us. Whoever has got the richest mate wins. What does a big business do when it sees a smaller one as a threat? Buy it. Rugby is a business. 7s is the purest form of the last great ball sport on earth, 15s is wavering.

    Reply
  •  hoot
    hoot

    That's all well and good if you assume that we are already at saturation point with 'decent rugby types' paying money to watch games on TV and in person. But I expect the reality is that they are a long way from saturation, and there are a lot of proper rugby fans who could still be coaxed into spending more of their leisure income on rugby. The sad bit I suppose is that as the marketing effort increases, so do ticket prices, meaning that many would be fans are priced out. On a separate note, I imagine it's just nowhere near as fun being a player now as it was 10-20 years ago - they seem a bit like laboratory specimens!

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    ....made my mind up just writing all that...I'm against the move..

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    I found this very difficult to watch, I really don't know where I stand on the whole topic. I'm less than 30 but I think in my eyes that the changes I've seen perhaps in the last 5 years have been far greater than any changes before that (not sure my time measurement is accurate...but it's changed a lot recently!)... Personally I don't find I'm holding it all quite as close as before...so I'm a bit negative with it... Of course, with bad comes good, player development means a higher skill and indeed better medical care for players...less of the magic sponge witch craft and a bit more real care...but.. on the flip side...with good comes bad... we've seen feigning injuries, we've seen blood gate scandals, we've seen whatever that was with the French prop (perhaps it was genuine).. then hearing some of the folks in this video talk about making the game attractive for the fans sort of makes me gag a little.. It's probably snobbery, but there is something I admire about the class of fans that support rugby (and play rugby), there is always going to be a few wrong 'uns, but the reality is, we as RD followers have numerous disagreements that rarely (never) devolve into "fk u m8, u is a wankor becos u r a ____ fan!" (not unless I'm involved..), but you enter into any other public forum - youtube being the favourite and it's incredible to see the twattery of some of the characters on there... these are the 'masses' that 'rugby' (apparently), wants to attract, because they pay for tickets, fill seats and make stadiums look packed = better tv contracts, higher player pay, higher coach pay, higher sponsors, higher merchandise sales and so the cycle continues until you end up with soccer.....

    Reply

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