IF SPORT is now more a business than a sport, more a product than a game, then those who run it need to spend their time looking for gaps in the market – just as you would selling, for example, hair gel or alcohol.
So where is one of the biggest openings in the rugby market? Where do several million people live, and yet don’t have a top-level club side within an hour of their home? You’ve got it. London.
Not the peripheries where you’ll be in earshot of the M25 rather than the Paddington slip or the Rotherhithe tunnel. We’re talking “real” London. Where people who live in Camden or Catford inhabit a rugby wasteland.
And for those people in these areas who are nonetheless fans of rugby, they probably settle for the television instead of an arduous journey to Reading, Twickenham, Barnet or the impenetrable Wycombe to see one of the capital’s main clubs.
In this column two weeks ago I praised Saracens for their innovative stadium and pitch which has belatedly, but effectively secured the market in north-west London. Meanwhile Harlequins’ well-executed business plan has made them brand leaders in the south west. So now let’s focus on the two clubs that, with real foresight and vision, could – and should – be looking to capitalise on the remaining gaping hole in the heart of the city.
When the professional era enveloped rugby union, some London clubs panicked and went broke, others panicked and moved west. London Irish left their spiritual home in Sunbury for a business park on the M4.
Wasps flew off for one of Britain’s least accessible sports grounds, near the M40.
As both contemplate the future, before and after the expected 2015 World Cup boost to the game, one of them should surely be breaking every sinew in their corporate contacts book to secure funding for, and the location of a site that would create a truly “London” club that had the feeling of the capital, but could also ensnare those legions of southern hemisphere rugby followers who sit in their local Walkabout pub on a Saturday when they could actually be at a live game, instead.
As Ealing Trailfinders consider next season in the Championship, perhaps they are the organisation, with potentially unlimited investment, who could trawl the inner reaches of Hammersmith or Chiswick for a home.
Because while England contemplate a fourth step towards a Grand Slam next weekend, the country’s capital city sits waiting for a rugby tenant. It is the future, somehow, somewhere, if someone has the will, and the money, to grasp it.