Rugby chief says Super Rugby expansion into Asia is right move
Sanzar CEO says interest in Japan for Sunwolves vindicates expansion into Asia
With a global pay-per-view television audience peaking at about 50 million annually, the Super Rugby competition has grown considerably in stature since its inception two decades ago.
That figure is set to rise as the marquee tournament makes inroads into Asia and South America, after expanding the number of teams to 18 from 16, with the inclusion of the Japanese franchise Sunwolves and Argentinian side Jaguares.
But as far as matchday attendances go, Sanzar (home of rugby in the Southern Hemisphere) chief executive officer Andy Marinos says the respective national rugby unions must use their know-how to drum up local interest.
"Sanzar's responsibility is to bring in the teams, and to bring the product to the market," he said at the InterContinental Singapore yesterday.
"How the companies here or the entities here connect with the people is part of their market strategy, and they would know their market far better than we would.
"I can't sit with a view out of Cape Town or Sydney as to what will work in Singapore. You've got to work with the locals."
A successful example was the Sunwolves' first game against the Lions in Tokyo on Feb 27, with Marinos calling the overwhelming fan turn-out of nearly 20,000 "unbelievable".
"The matchday attendances have tended to go the wrong way, so it's really positive now to see a new generation or a new demographic coming into the game and supporting it," he said.
"I think that's a challenge all Super Rugby franchises have had over the last couple of years."
Marinos revealed that 16,000 tickets have already been sold for the match between the Sunwolves and the Rebels in Tokyo next week.
However, he does not expect such astronomical figures for their "home away from home" games here.
Referring to the unique arrangement for the Sunwolves to play three games at the National Stadium, Marinos said: "I'm very aware that we're probably going to have more empty than full seats.
"But for me, it's about the product on the field and the enjoyment that the people who go to the stadium get out of what they see."
While the Republic lost out to Japan despite a "strong and compelling" bid to secure a Super Rugby franchise, Marinos said a Singapore-based team remains a possibility.
"It's about the appetite of the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) as well, and the consortium that would work with it," he said.
"I know (SRU president Low) Teo Ping feels very passionately about rugby in this region and he's been a big driving force to make sure that Singapore has its place.
"So, we're going through a process now and we'll look at all markets."
Marinos also noted that future expansion in Asia should be meaningful.
"You don't just expand for the sake of expanding. We want to have a purpose as to why we want to get into new markets and what we want to try to achieve out of that," he said.
"We see South-east Asia as a market that's got a huge amount of potential… to grow rugby at a grassroots level and start getting the people here familiar with rugby."
To that end, Sunwolves winger John Stewart conducted a coaching clinic at Yio Chu Kang Stadium for close to 50 children from the local Japanese community yesterday, while coach Mark Hammett shared tips with the Singapore national rugby team at the same venue on Friday.
Marinos added: "The challenge with the market here is getting it into as many homes as you can. But, we also want to start developing talent from within."
“We see South-east Asia as a market that’s got a huge amount of potential… to grow rugby at a grassroots level and start getting the people here familiar with rugby.”
— Sanzar CEO Andy Marinos (above)