World Rugby has today (Thursday) released a revised masterplan for its proposed Nations Championship, including details of a lucrative commercial partnership with the Infront agency.
The plans have proved a hugely controversial talking point in rugby union across recent months and the sport’s major international stakeholders gathered to discuss the proposals in the Irish city of Dublin.
At the meeting of unions, competition owners and international player representatives, World Rugby outlined details of what it claims is a game-changing competition model that delivers a true pathway for all unions through a three-division format and a system of promotion and relegation.
The proposed format would be underpinned by a record commercial partnership with Infront, which has been selected as the preferred partner for the venture. World Rugby said this will guarantee almost £5bn (€5.86bn/$6.62bn) for investment in the sport over an initial 12-year period, of which more than £1.5bn is guaranteed incremental revenue for the world game.
The proposed business model covers both media and marketing rights but does not include any sale of equity in the competition and therefore full control of the competition and its revenue redistribution model would be retained by the unions, the current major competitions and World Rugby.
World Rugby also outlined revisions to the original proposal presented to unions in September, following feedback from key stakeholders, including leading players and club competitions. Among the key changes is reduction of the schedule by removing the semi-final stage. With a view to player welfare, which had been a key concern from the original proposals, players would play 11 Nations Championship matches, and a maximum of 12 if their team reaches the final, compared to an average of between 12 and 14 Test matches presently.
World Rugby issued a commitment to work with the International Rugby Players group and the leading domestic club competitions to optimise the model. It added that it was also committed to investing in a Women’s Nations Championship to accelerate the global competitiveness of the game.
Under the new plans, the Nations Championship would consist of two conferences of six teams apiece based on the Six Nations and Rugby Championship. The final two slots in the Rugby Championship would be filled by Fiji and Japan, based on current World Rugby rankings.
Each team would play their five rivals in their respective conferences during the existing Six Nations and Rugby Championship windows. Three-game tours to the southern hemisphere by the Six Nations teams in July and November, would make up the remaining six games. After each team has played its 11 rivals once, the winners of the two respective conferences would then meet in a grand final.
World Rugby also outlined plans for promotion and relegation for the two conferences and their Division 2 counterparts. At present, Europe’s Division 2 would be made up of Georgia, Romania, Russia, Spain and Portugal. The Rugby Championship’s Division 2 would consist of Tonga, USA, Samoa, Uruguay and Hong Kong. The winners of these two divisions would enter a play-off with the bottom team from the two main conferences to determine promotion and relegation.
The Nations Championship would be staged in all years aside from World Cup years, with World Rugby also outlining how it would ring-fence British & Irish Lions tours. In years in which Lions tours are held, the Nations Championship would be reduced to 10 games per team with no promotion and relegation taking place.
Commenting on the revised plans, World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said today: “We are encouraged that the format revisions and robust financial model has been well-received. Everyone, not just the established teams, will benefit, accelerating the development and competitiveness of the global game.
“However, as you would expect in an ambitious, complex and multi-stakeholder project, not everyone is in full agreement on the way forward, including the matter of promotion and relegation.
“This is a pivotal time for the game, and we will continue to engage and consult, but only by keeping the best interests of the global game at heart will we be able to achieve something truly impactful for the future success and sustainability of the game.”
Christian Mueller, vice-president of strategy and business development at Infront, added: “Our support will enable World Rugby and its member unions around the globe to elevate the game further whilst also providing long-term financial security, across all regions and levels.
“We know how passionate rugby fans are and we want to ensure accessibility for fans globally, supporting World Rugby’s vision to continue making the game a sport for all. It is in our interests to grow the audience to ensure it is an attractive proposition for both media and sponsors.”