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Wednesday Dec 6, 2023

Newcastle potentially set to host finals in huge location switch up

There is a nervous energy in the air of Newcastle at the moment surrounding the future of the age old club. Their performances are dwindling, and their attendances are falling by the wayside. With three top flight clubs biting the financial curb last season only to be run over, many are now concerned that it could be the Tyneside team that go next.

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To ensure that rugby “is relevant in the north”, Rob Calder, Premiership’s chief growth officer, is exploring the option to potentially move the Premiership Playoff Final to St James’ Park – away from the traditional Twickenham Stadium.

We’ve discussed this with the RFU. Personally, I would love the opportunity to take it (the final) elsewhere and grow the game across the country if the RFU supports that,” he told Mail Sport. 

“We’re debating that at the moment. We know we need to ensure rugby is relevant in the north.

“They’ve had rugby games in Newcastle before – World Cup matches and a European final at St James’ Park. Newcastle Falcons have played there before too.”

A key selling point for rugby that may have been missed in the past, is the overall fan experience when attending a rugby game. It’s not just about the rugby, but it’s about the environment, the activities around the stadiums, the food and the drinks.

Matches like ‘The Clash’ and ‘The Big Game’ have done exceedingly well at bringing large crowds in at Twickenham. Known to promote the full day experience, fans come for the rugby but stay for the Wurzels and the cider. The idea would be to promote a similar experience up in the north of England.

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“Rugby league has played games there. There is an appetite for rugby there so I definitely wouldn’t rule it out. You’ve got to put on a show to make sure it’s a big day out. I think that’s what people expect from a major final. We are looking at how we move that on again next year. 

“We want to make the final as welcoming as possible and a celebration of rugby. It’s a day out for families and they are going to be so important for us moving forwards.

“The final is our No 1 focus because it’s our biggest opportunity to get a cut through for the Premiership. We’re looking at all sorts of things around that.”

Calder has expressed that money is the major block, but the product could be hugely profitable if marketed correctly.

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“The ambition is to grow but we’ve had a challenging year. Budgets are tight but my view is the Premiership should be shouting a bit louder about its brilliant achievements on the pitch.

“Getting rugby into popular culture is important. That’s what we did with The Hundred. We recognised cricket had fallen out of popular culture.

“I wouldn’t have joined Premiership Rugby if I didn’t think there was a massive opportunity for the game. I believe in it. We just need to find ways to sell it.

“There is no reason why rugby can’t reflect modern Britain and that’s what we want to do – attract the game to wider audiences. The barriers in cricket led to the creation of The Hundred. 

“The aim was to make it more accessible and more entertaining. Then you have a product that can explode and it has done. With Premiership Rugby there is nothing wrong with the product. 

“It’s great and I genuinely believe that. I’m not here to change the format of rugby.”

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