Sunday, April 08, 2007

Heineken Cup Meltdown Could Provide Magners Boost

Hang on, hang on, hear me out okay?

Rugby (or more specifically Celtic rugby) has taken to the bed, consumed with grief and loss after the English and French clubs abandoned the happy home of the Heineken Cup. All those wonderful years of drama and thrills; the colour, the passion, the cash! Oh the lovely, lovely cash! All gone, stolen away by mean-minded blazers and avaricious clubs.

Those marquee sponsors, pouring their investment over the Celtic fringe like a gardener watering arid scrub at the end of the garden!

Gone! WHY??!!

Steady on now. We like to maintain our heads around here. We don't turn a drama into a crisis. If we had turned up in Pompeii as Vesuvius blew her top, we would have remarked on the likely future tourist revenues the town would enjoy. If we had met Jackie Kennedy in November 1960 we would have mentioned the Greek shipping billionaire we had heard was on the lookout.

Yes, calming words. So there's no Heineken Cup next year (even at this point, the rugby populace eyes the feuding parties sadly, pleading "say it ain't so, Joe!"). There will, of course, be a hole in the finances of Irish rugby - union, provinces and beyond. But will all the capital (both financial and in terms of public goodwill) generated during rugby's recent boom years simply vanish?

Scenario: Post-World Cup; Ireland have performed creditably, the French have bewitched, the All Blacks have dazzled. Kids are chucking rugby balls about in country towns and in inner-city playgrounds. Will all those enterprises that sponsored and made hay from the Heineken Cup simply take their money elsewhere, ignoring the continued public enthusiasm for the sport?

There is another rugby competition, you know. It's nothing fancy or clever; it's not always been loved or cherished, and for a long time those sponsors didn't even know it existed. It's called the Magners League, and next season it could be the only way to see rugby's new superstars out of their international jerseys.

Here's the science bit. Doesn't nature abhor a vacuum? If we discount the percentage of rugby's new fanbase recruits who are only here for the (Heineken) beer, doesn't that still leave a significant new constituency for whom the Magners League will represent the only delivery system for their addiction.

Will all those thousands who've joined Munster, Leinster and Ulster on their European adventures, and generated real supporter group identities for all three, simply fold away their scarves, return to civilian life and mention no more of it again?

With a minimum of six weekends freed up, the Magners League will retain the sole focus of rugby fans' attentions from the end of the World Cup on October 20th until the Six Nations returns on February 2nd, 2008. Presuming both attendances and competition standards are boosted as a result of the tournament's temporary market monopoly, this unfortunate turn of events could provide the Magners League with a vital shot in the arm.

With an enthusiastic Munster pouring their energies into the tournament in a manner they have not done this season, with those cocklewarming winter interprovincials, with the presence of Llanelli Scarlets (European Champions? Who knows?) and the improving Ospreys there could be plenty to enjoy until the implacable rivals in France and England emerge from the boardroom with an agreement.

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Blogger Fence said...

I agree. If any fan was planning on heading to a Heineken match simply pick a Celtic League one instead. Easy peasy.

It may not be a long-term solution, but for one season? To show the French and English that they can't always get what they want?

7:19 p.m.  

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