Premiership explore options to take season finale away from Twickenham

EXCLUSIVE Premiership Rugby explore options to take end-of-season final away from Twickenham for the first time… as their chief growth officer insists changes are needed to ensure the sport ‘is relevant in the north’

  • The Premiership end-of-season final has always been held at Twickenham
  • Premiership Rugby are now looking at taking it to another venue in the country
  • They feel this is necessary to help grow the league’s appeal around the country 

Premiership Rugby is exploring plans to move its showpiece end-of-season final away from Twickenham for the first time as part of ambitious plans to grow the league’s appeal. 

The 2022/23 campaign was the most tumultuous in the history of the English game’s top professional league as three of its sides – Worcester, Wasps and London Irish – fell into financial oblivion. 

Now in charge of a 10-team division, the Premiership wants to solidify its status and then evolve in different ways.

One of those could involve moving the final away from Twickenham. Since the Premiership introduced a play-off format for the 2002-03 season, each of the subsequent year’s finals have been held at the home of English rugby although that could soon change. 

Rob Calder is the Premiership’s chief growth officer. ‘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. 

The end-of-season Premiership final has always been held at Twickenham

Owen Farrell’s Saracens beat Sale Sharks in last season’s Premiership final, but it failed to sell out Twickenham

The Premiership’s chief growth officer Rob Calder (pictured) wants to take the final around the country so it remains ‘relevant in the north’

‘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. 

‘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.’ 

Ongoing and wide-ranging discussions over English rugby’s next professional game agreement between the Premiership and the RFU remain ongoing. 

Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – which will host this season’s European finals – are also options for the Premiership’s main event alongside St James’ Park. 

Last season’s Twickenham final – which saw Saracens beat Sale – failed to sell out. Calder joined the Premiership last October from the England & Wales Cricket Board where he was the commercial lead behind the creation of The Hundred. 

Newcastle United’s St James’ Park could be an option in the north of England for the final

‘I had a long chat with Simon Massie-Taylor (Premiership chief executive) before I joined,’ Calder said. 

‘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. 

Rob Calder wants to follow the lead of The Hundred in cricket to make rugby accessible and entertaining

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

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney caused shock among English rugby fans when he said in October the game in the country was ‘on the cusp of something spectacular’ despite its current ills. 

Calder wants to make the Premiership’s players its biggest selling point. He also revealed talks over renewing the league’s broadcast deal with TNT Sports – set to expire at the end of this season – are ongoing and that he would love to see more double header fixtures between the men’s Premiership and the Premiership Women’s Rugby. 

Gloucester and Leicester have already hosted back-to-back matches with their men’s and women’s teams this season. 

‘We saw some research last month which showed rugby could be so much better in attracting new viewers to the sport through the personalities of the game,’ Calder said. 

‘Basketball, NFL and football are all up there. Even rugby league scores higher than union. We need to stop talking about this “no-one is bigger than the team” idea. 

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney (pictured) said rugby was on the cusp of something special’ in October. Calder wants the Premiership’s players to be the sport’s biggest selling point

‘Of course that’s the case on the field. But there are superstars in rugby. That’s why we wanted to do the Amazon documentary. That’s why we were thrilled when Finn Russell came to Bath. 

‘We know the impact he can have. We’ve seen that on our social media channels. We had our biggest sales number on our streaming service when Bath played Sale. Finn drives interest. 

‘Two fans from the west coast of Scotland drove to Bath this season to watch them because Finn was playing. We want the Premiership to have the best stars.

‘Players are so critical to selling this game.’

Rob Calder on…

Could the Premiership take games abroad for the first time since 2017?

We’ve talked about it and I think it would be a brilliant ambition. It’s been done before, before our time. 

It was a big undertaking and I’m sure Premiership Rugby learnt a lot from it. I love the ambition but I think we need to build towards that. It’s not about too much too soon.

What balance are you looking for between a subscription channel and free-to-air broadcasting in the Premiership’s next television deal?

TNT are our incumbent broadcaster and there is a really strong relationship there. They are full of innovation and have some brilliant ideas. We’re really enthusiastic about that and are in discussions about how we might extend. 

Free-to-air is a vital part of our shop window. It’s always going to be a balance. That’s part of the discussion. I think what we can do better is promote the ITV games more and our focus on that has definitely improved in the last 12 months. 

It’s a balance of reach and revenue in these discussions. We want to drive reach across the game. We know we need to get to more people.

Will we see more men’s and women’s Premiership double headers?

I’d love to do that. There are some commercial challenges with different partners involved but in terms of promoting the game and creating festivals of rugby which attract families, I think it’s really important the men’s and women’s games are aligned. 

There is a great growth opportunity for both the men’s and women’s games. It’s important we work together to make that happen.

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