Premiership rugby chiefs draw up plans to take matches around UK in bid to grow league's popularity

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EXCLUSIVE: Premiership chiefs draw up plans to take matches around the UK in a bid to grow the league’s popularity… eyeing more fixtures at non-rugby venues or neutral grounds such as Twickenham

  • The Gallagher Premiership plan to hold games at non-rugby and neutral venues
  • They are keen to take more matches to areas where rugby isn’t a dominant sport
  • Premiership bosses hope these fixtures will boost the league’s popularity
  • Venues such as Twickenham will be eyed as potential options for certain games

The Gallagher Premiership plan to hold matches at non-rugby venues and take more games to neutral grounds in an attempt to grow the league’s popularity, Sportsmail can reveal.

Harlequins have held annual ‘Big Game’ matches at Twickenham since 2008. They faced Northampton Saints there in December and will also meet Gloucester at the home of English rugby next month, and Saracens hosted Bristol Bears at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in March.

Premiership Rugby bosses hope such fixtures will become more commonplace as they look to expand into new areas where rugby is not the dominant sport.

‘We should all have a joined-up approach and the Big Game is a good example of that,’ Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor told Sportsmail.

The Gallagher Premiership plan to hold matches at non-rugby venues and neutral grounds

The Gallagher Premiership plan to hold matches at non-rugby venues and neutral grounds

‘We should look at how we manage those. How do we spread those around the season and also geographically? The clubs occupy their own regions, but there are other rugby audiences around the UK who could host Big Game matches. I think we need to tap into that for the growth of the game.

‘We could take a game to Brighton, for example. The 2015 World Cup proved there is a rugby audience there. Then you start to venture further up north. You could visit a Yorkshire area which isn’t immediately serviced by a Premiership club. We need to ask ourselves: where else can we take our rugby to appeal to a wider audience?

‘We believe it’s there. There are almost 10 million rugby fans in the UK and not all of them are immediately served by a Premiership club. It would be a good exercise and it is one we intend to do.’

Massie-Taylor acknowledged Premiership clubs might be reticent to forgo home advantage by moving matches, but the commercial appeal of hosting huge crowds at venues such as Twickenham would be difficult to turn down — especially as the league continues to recover from financial difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic.

Premiership bosses want to take games around the UK to boost the league's popularity

Premiership bosses want to take games around the UK to boost the league’s popularity

They want to bring in new Premiership fans in areas where rugby isn't the dominant sport

They want to bring in new Premiership fans in areas where rugby isn’t the dominant sport

When Harlequins beat Northampton 41-27 at Twickenham in December, the gate was a mammoth 72,785. Massie-Taylor also revealed the Premiership would not be changing the minimum standards criteria for promotion, in what is a huge blow to Ealing’s chances of reaching the top flight.

The Championship winners are appealing against the RFU’s decision to reject their application to join the Premiership as the club did not meet the minimum standards criteria for promotion. Part of the problem was that Ealing’s home ground can’t hold more than 10,000 fans.

A panel verdict on the Trailfinders’ appeal could be heard as soon as next week.

‘The intention from the clubs is for the Premiership to be a 14-team league as soon as possible so we were disappointed Ealing were not able to meet the minimum standards,’ Massie-Taylor said.

‘The standards criteria need to remain high because we want to grow the league and its quality. If the review is around whether or not Ealing have met the standards, I think that’s clear-cut. They’ve been more than aware of the standards.

‘Based on their submission for this season, the number of seats was one of the most material issues with their audit. There are ways around that whether it’s planning permission and intention to build your own stadium or to lease off others.’

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