It had emerged over the weekend that Graham Lowe, the director of performance rugby in Scotland, intends to review the set-up of the top division. As coaches bemoan the lack of respect club sides get and call out for a semi-professional atmosphere in Scottish club rugby people are searching for alternatives. The main drive of Lowe’s review, it could be suggested, will be to make more money from Prem 1. A concept as elusive as Julien Malzieu (yeah, it’s time to get nervous/excited about Sunday already!).
Scottish club rugby needs a new way to generate excitement. But how do you make it more sexy?! The mainstream ideal tends to be cutting the league down to a more competitive 10 team league. In fact, if The Scotsman is to be believed, the powers that be at Hawks have produced a paper calling for the league to be reformatted to include 8 teams only. This, however, looks unlikely. One; because it is improbable that all the Prem 1 powers will agree on this but also because, two; it is doubtful that Lowe would propose such a grand change so soon into his tenure that could instantly alienate up to 6 clubs as 4 are relegated and 2 denied promotion.
It is obvious that change is needed in some degree. The truth is, however, that cutting the amount of teams alone would not guarantee that the premier club rugby competition in this country is more exciting. More competitive? Definitely. More entertaining? I, for one, am not convinced.
Excitement is what generates more interest. More interest generates more coverage. More coverage generates bigger attendances and more sponsorship. In short, ladies and gentlemen, excitement brings the bucks. So Prem 1 needs to foster the pluralist notion of entertainment and rivalry within a league, preferably shortened to 10 teams. Some remit, Mr. Lowe! You’d have an easier job convincing card-happy Hines that collecting yellows in the 6N is not a good thing.
Would a play-off between the top 4 teams at the end of the season create more buzz? Would a play-off at the bottom of the league create more buzz? How do we get the BBC or STV to show more of our ‘amateur’ games? Craig Chalmers has been saying for months that play-offs (at the top half of the table at least) would not only initiate interest but give local broadcasters a better package to work with. This would definitely seem more marketable.
As well as this theory, Lowe is said to be considering an SPL-style split at a certain point in the season where the top-half teams fight for the title while the bottom-half teams scrap for survival. This would engender a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality, but seems to lack the market appeal of a shorter play-off product. Either way the mission is clear. Get more punters; thrill more punters; take cash off more punters. As a punter, I’m just hoping the league retains some of its classic rivalries while offering a fair opportunity for teams to earn a league title. And some unexpected high scoring results wouldn’t go amiss, either, thank you Mr. Director!