Matt Hardy on the rise of rugby clubs producing their own content as they look to attract new fans to the sport outside of the international arena.
Gone are the days of sending season tickets out via carrier pigeon and releasing fixture lists through smoke signals, and here are the days of holograms, on-demand video and behind-the-scenes exposure.
As professional sport increasingly embraces the digital world, rugby clubs have had to revolutionise their content to engage existing fans, entice new ones and compete in a heavily crowded market.
City A.M. last month reported that the Six Nations was in advanced talks with streaming giant Netflix over a series based on the competition. And clubs, too, have their own plans in digital media to expand their audience.
Irish province Munster recently launched a subscriber platform called “Access Munster”, which offers fans exclusive content for €4 (£3.50) per month.
“You find Munster fans flung far and wide across the world but they’re not in a position to come to the stadium every week,” the club’s head of commercial Dave Kavanagh told City A.M.
“The British and Irish Lions films were a good reference point for us. They showed the heat in the dressing room and it’s all internal. At Munster we wanted to create a system where players would turn around and see a camera but behind the camera would be a colleague. It’s all about trust.”
Northampton Saints’ director Tim Percival agrees that trust is vital when working on content with coaches and players.
“The challenging bit for us is the approval process,” Percival said. “The playing department might not be keen on showing certain things – such as sensitive moments or game plans – but it’s about finding a compromise quite quickly. We’ve had to have debates to put something we like the look of in.”
Percival says videos have shown immediate results, especially on TikTok and Instagram, and cites three main reasons for creating them.
“Brilliant content drives revenue, we want to attract new supporters while engaging current ones, and we want to put ourselves in the shop window for Netflix and Amazon,” he added. “These are pilots for broadcasters.”
Northampton use internal filming with external editing, while Munster keep the entire production in-house. When agency Roc Nation and its client England player Ellis Genge arrived for a recent interview, each had their own camera crew in tow.
“We have the personalities, facilities and stadiums but it’s about how we bring people inside of our squad,” Kavanagh said.
“We have priced it well but with the cost of living crisis we were never going to go top dollar. We want accessibility and affordability. We actively market this, too, now with paid marketing. We will see where we get to but if we are at 10,000 subscribers in a few years we will be happy.”
The appetite for content is there. Some prominent social media accounts dedicated to rugby have seen their followings skyrocket and are now invited to media launch events.
Beyond that, though, there is a pressing need to convert casual international fans into week in, week out domestic fans – and that’s the challenge.
“Clubs cannot be complacent about trying to retain supporters’ attention and the feedback from our supporters is that they want this,” Percival said.
“The most impressive execution of this is the Wrexham documentaries [featuring the Ryan Reynolds-owned National League football club on Disney+] – they look so smart. I wish a famous rugby face or celebrity would take a chance on a rugby club, it would have an incremental effect on rugby in its entirety.”