by Preeti Virdee
18th September 2012
18th September 2015 will see the opening ceremony of Rugby World Cup 2015; that day is a mere three years away, and the organising committee of England’s next most prestigious sporting event is confident that England 2015 is on target to surpass the success of France 2007 and New Zealand 2011.
Since setting up home at Webb Ellis House in Twickenham, England Rugby 2015 has grown from a skeleton staff to all the heads of departments appointed, the organising committee finalised, and even a change at the helm with CEO Paul Vaughan stepping down a fortnight earlier, reportedly “by mutual consent”. Vaughan joined the party after 11 years at the Rugby Football Union, finally leaving as Business Development Director to take up the top position at ER2015, but rumour has it matters were not moving ahead with quite the urgency required; within the hour, Vaughan’s departure and the appointment of the new Chief Executive were announced. And a higher pedigree one would be hard pressed to find.
Debbie Jevans began her sporting journey as a British pro tennis player, and after retiring stayed in the profession at the International Tennis Federation, eventually orchestrating the return of tennis as an Olympic sport. A non-executive Member of the Committee of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Jevans was a colleague of RFU CEO Ian Ritchie, who formerly held the same position at AELTC. But she is most well known for delivering London 2012 as the Olympics and Paralympics Director of Sport. Jevans is expected to arrive from LOCOG to take up her post at ER2015 before October is out. After being the leading light responsible for putting on the greatest show on earth, showing off London in all its glory, she now has the exciting task of showcasing her home nation on the world stage with RWC 2015. Well, there goes the old school boy network in English rugby! There are not one but two ladies in the highest positions, with Jevans parked across the road from Sophie Goldschmidt, Chief Commercial Officer at the RFU.
Whilst tying up her Olympic legacy at LOCOG, the remaining team briefed the press as to how the organising committee was structured, and how far down the line progress had come since inception in January. Chairman Andy Cosslett, formerly CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, a commercial partner of the RFU, joined England Rugby 2015 in March, presented the team. Chief Operating Officer, Ross Young who came from nine years at the International Rugby Board delivering Australia 2003, France 2007 and New Zealand 2011, freshly appointed IRB CEO Brett Gosper, former CEO of McCann Erickson USA and Europe, and Kit McConnell, Head of Rugby World Cup and Tournament Director who arrived at the IRB also via the Olympic route. The organising committee comprises the Rugby World Cup Ltd and England Rugby 2015, the former wholly owned by the IRB, the latter by the RFU. And thus they play nicely together, the direct delivery team now relocated to the leafy suburbia of Twickenham, along with the official RWC travel partners camped out at Webb Ellis House, with Brett settling in just a plane hop away in Dublin at IRB HQ.
So, here’s where Rugby World Cup 2015 is at with three years to go…
The organising committee is in place, with managers in all key areas including rugby and venue operations, city and regional operations, marketing and communications, and corporate services. Cosslett says ER 2015 is ahead of schedule, and on target to at least reach if not exceed the £100 million revenue target, despite there currently being no venues decided on, no match timings, no security plans and no ticketing strategy. But all the above are dependent on which rugby nations will be based where, so until the pool allocation is drawn on Monday 3rd December 2012, definitive plans cannot be made.
The IRB Council have agreed on certain worthwhile matters which adversely affected recent world cups, in that the second tier nations will no longer be handed the disadvantage at the outset of 4 days turnarounds between matches. But, in their wisdom, the Council have also decided the magnificent Millennium Stadium will be a RWC venue for England 2015. Last time we checked, Cardiff was not strictly speaking in England by any stretch of the imagination. Furthermore, Wales will be allowed to play home matches at home, and there are no restrictions on how many matches that will be. So no doubt the Welsh pool will be Cardiff-based. Meanwhile, it is highly likely England will not play all her matches at Twickenham with the distinct home advantage. In order to engage the rest of the nation, and also non-rugby fans, England Rugby will be sent far and wide to the four corners of the home nation.
As for where those corners may be, ER 2015 are currently in discussions with 20 venues around the country, and it is almost certain Old Trafford, Kingsholm and Welford Road are key to spreading the rugby love, along with the Millennium Stadium, engaging not just the sporting venues but entire cities, developing fan zones, and working with VisitEngland, creating a buzz around hosting one of the world’s largest sporting events. But the most talked about potential venue is of course the spectacular Olympic Stadium in East London. ER 2015 have been in discussions with LOCOG and the London 2012 Legacy company since the start of the year, but until new landlords are decided upon, it remains an uncertainty. Hopefully, whoever they may be, they will have the foresight to engage in a sport outside of football and make good use of the 60,000-seater stadium it is to become.
Though London 2012 was a shining example of just how to pull off a world-class sporting event, ticketing and security were two thorns in LOCOG’s side with the employment of Ticketmaster and G4S - both of whom failed in meeting their obligations. ER 2015 has not ruled out Ticketmaster yet, but will set extremely high service level agreements to ensure smooth running. As for security, after jovially agreeing with the suggestion that all private organisations should be by-passed and ER 2015 should simply employ the Armed Services directly, it was stated that the sporting venues in contention all service capacity crowds on a regular basis and so the G4S situation should not arise. The Armed Forces will be looked upon as a support if needed, and of course with Debbie Jevans’ LOCOG position, ER 2015 already has a direct line to the logistical head of British Troops.
And the message? New Zealand may have had a “Stadium of four million”, and London 2012 will hopefully “Inspire a nation”, but England Rugby 2015 will bring something new to engage a country, a rugby world, both on and off the field…with plenty of “Après Rugby” to boot. And with that many ad men on the board, there is no doubting whatever the ER 2015 tagline will be, it will not only match but surpass the excellence that was New Zealand 2011. The world became used to Tower Bridge boasting Olympic circles through the summer of 2012…maybe the autumn of 2015 it could look like this?
Three years is a long time, or just 1,095 days. There is much to come, countries to qualify, players to nurture, venues to find, tickets to sell, and a nation and planet to engage. The Kiwis did the rugby world proud. England have a small mountain to climb, and hopefully a trophy to win at the end of a long road. You can be sure we will be following Rugby World Cup 2015 every step of the way…