#2 rugby's commercial offspring

By Olly Barkley, 4 February 2011

When the curtain falls on season 2010-11, I will have completed my tenth full season of domestic rugby and from the day I stepped out as a spotty little teenager the league has undergone some monumental changes. I'm not just talking about the rugby either. For me, it's what has gone on behind the scenes over the last decade - in the administrative sections of the clubs and the RFU - that can ultimately take credit for the growing success of the Premiership.

It can never be underestimated the affect one swing of a cultured right leg has had on rugby in this country. When Jonny slotted the vital three points to bring the Webb Ellis back to these shores, I don't think even the RFU knew the affect it would have. From grass roots, past Welford Road (home of Leicester RFC) and onto Twickenham, winning the World Cup has knocked a tidal wave through rugby in England.

Why?

Well, money of course. Cash. Contracts, sponsors, salary caps, television rights, season tickets, gate sales, new stands and new players. Suddenly, rugby represented a vehicle on which big commercial companies (companies who before wouldn't have even banded the word 'rugby' around their board rooms) could advertise and market to a new and stereotypically affluent audience.

With more people not only wanting to play the game, but watch it as well, television rights became far more lucrative and influential. Not only expanding the domestic league's coverage to the family sitting at home in their Bath jerseys (of course), but also for the sponsors now paying the clubs to have their logo on the team's jerseys or on the hoardings around the pitch. There's no getting away from it, the broadcasting companies are the major player in the commercial sporting world and rugby in this country is no different. God bless them I say. Yes, they may change the odd kick-off, so save X-factor on Sky+. They have attracted finance to our beautiful game and the knock-on effects of this are even bigger.

When I first started at Bath we had two coaches. John Hall took the forwards, Jon Callard took the backs and they both met in the middle to decide upon our defensive structure and attacking strategy. They were ably supported by one strength and conditioning coach and one video analyst or cable geek, as we affectionately call them, and two physiotherapists. Not an uncommon coaching structure. Most teams across the country would look very similar in this respect.

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Cue more strength and conditioning staff...to hand out pill, after protein shake, after electrolyte

Olly Barkley

Rugby's Commercial Baby

The staff room paints a very different picture these days.

We have a backs' coach, a defensive coach, a head coach and a forwards' coach. We have three full-time strength and conditioning coaches supported by three interns. Three full-time physiotherapists overlooked by a full-time doctor and two full-time video analysts.

Winning has always been the ultimate in rugby, but the ante is definitely upped year on year and infinitely more so than when I first crossed the whitewash a decade ago. Why though? Why has it? Pressure, expectation and performance are the key players here and it comes back to the C word. No, not that one. Commercialism.

olly barkley on blokely

Domestic rugby has seen a vast influx of sponsorship and broadcasting since 2003

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...winning the World Cup has knocked a tidal wave through rugby in England.

Olly Barkley

Rugby's Commercial Baby

Supplement companies, shirt sponsors, stand sponsors and club sponsors don't throw their six-figure sums around for the love of the game. Sure, the guys making the decisions will have some sort of direct or indirect affection for the game, but they want results. They want their team at the top of the tree and in the running for the big trophies, they want more TV coverage, more photos in papers. If your team can't deliver the results that make the way for these things, then you can bet your season ticket they'll be looking for a team that can.

There's more at stake now, so teams need that edge. They need to find that one percent extra each and every day to get one over on Saturday's opponents. The players responsible for delivering these results therefore become the club's number one assets. Cue more coaches skilled in specific areas of the game to ensure players are as prepared as they can be. Cue more strength and conditioning staff to give players one on one attention in the gym, on the track and to hand out pill after protein shake after electrolyte. My toilet and I can do without this.

So, as the pressure to perform increases so does the size of the coaching team to maximise the chance of bringing in the goods. It's given birth to a new breed of player.

From the food they eat to the specificity of their training, players these days are an athletic world away from the ones I used to lock horns with at the turn of the century. They lift more weight; they cover the ground far quicker and for longer. As a result the tackles are bigger, the clean breaks more frequent and the spectacle greater. There's no doubt: better players make for better rugby games.

With the World Cup came the increased audience. With the increased audience came the influx money and this has allowed our game and its players to flourish. Sure it has its downside, there's no doubting we've lost some of the amateur values for which rugby is famous, but in return look what we have to show for it. Viva Aviva.

Track of the Fortnight

My track of the fortnight is nearly ten years old but to this day it still kicks the back-end out of anything in its genre. Over the years Groove Armada have pioneered a unique combination of funk, electronic and house supplementing their melodic tunes with guest vocalists from one end of the musical spectrum to the other.

Suntoucher to me is everything good about Groove Armada.
Groove Armada - Suntoucher. Taken from the album Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub) on Jive Electro.

more from olly...

...playing rugby overseas

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