Rugby Expo 2014: event review

Rugby-Expo-2014-GeneralRugby Expo returned on 22-23 October 2014 and welcomed more than 800 attendees from the professional and grass roots game across the two days, including the largest ever club attendance since the event moved to Twickenham in 2011.

Extended partnerships with Premiership Rugby and PRO12 saw full club attendance from the two leagues; a new partnership with RFL and Super League welcomed senior management staff from the RFL and a number of clubs, and the ongoing relationship with the RFU saw Rugby Expo 2014 host the RFU Agents’ Seminar for the first time, with over 160 players’ agents, stakeholders and management staff provided with full access to the two day event.

The exhibition floor hosted more than 35 leading suppliers covering a range of products and services for both the professional and grass roots game including Tickets.com, Rhino Rugby, Sportsbeat, AFL Architects, Paddy Power, rijo42, GL Events UK, Pitchero, Major Events International, Snoozebox and O’Neills Sportswear; the two day conference programme provided delegates with a switch in focus from the professional game on Wednesday to grass roots rugby on Thursday, with many of the sport’s biggest names taking to the stage to discuss and debate rugby’s most topical issues.   

The first of two action-packed days featured Jason Leonard, Ieuan Evans and Bill Beaumont, as well as representatives from Super League, Manchester United, Twitter and much more.

Discussions surrounding the future of professional club rugby and building ‘Big Game’ strategies filled the morning, while the panel delved into clubs and countries’ ability to nurture the next generation of talent.

Experts from the world of social media and sponsorship held the floor after lunch, before the afternoon’s main attractions.

RFU chairman Bill Beaumont’s big interview rounded on the legacy of next year’s World Cup on home soil and the drive to empower grassroots rugby clubs up and down the country.

He said: “98 per cent of rugby is played by men and women, girls and boys, amateurs just having a bit of fun and I think we will never lose track of that.”

And proceedings came to a close with an entertaining discussion between British & Irish Lions Leonard and Evans, chaired by former Bath and USA No.8 Dan Lyle.

The debate centred around the World Cup – the day’s overriding theme – which will see Leonard’s England and Evans’ Wales pitted against each other, as well as Australia, in the pool stages.

“It’s the group everyone will be looking at,” said former Wales wing Evans. “Australia always have the ability to bounce back really quickly.

“This autumn is all the more important because of it. It will definitely improve their chances of getting out of the group if they beat one of the Southern Hemisphere teams this autumn.”

Day two switched its focus as delegates were treated to a packed schedule surrounding the role of clubs, communities and schemes in the sport’s future.

Two such schemes – Breakthru and Play – are run by Premiership Rugby and Women’s World Cup winner Tamara Taylor was on hand to spread the message.

“Projects like this are going to be massive,” she said. “It really does help that there is success at the elite level but it has got to filter down into clubs.”

Taylor’s England team were half of a World Cup double this summer, as the women’s and the U20 sides each returned to these shores with silverware.

And whether or not Stuart Lancaster’s side make it a hat-trick, Rugby Expo was a hunting ground for those in search of ways to capitalise on next year’s tournament and play their part in a rugby boom.

“Already the atmosphere is building and we are getting people talking about who they will support,” said Debbie Jevans, chief executive of England Rugby 2015.

“We have sold out matches involving Samoa, USA and Tonga in places like Brighton, Exeter and Gloucester.

“I think it just shows how popular rugby is in this country. Our ambition was to take the Rugby World Cup to the whole country – it wasn’t just about Twickenham.”

And RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie, who had the honour of officially opening the event on Wednesday morning, summed up the day’s motif.

“Every club has a relationship with the local community, town, city, village – whatever it may be,” he said.

“We are trying to put in certain mechanisms but at the end of the day, what is the objective? It is all about making great memories and having a fantastic event.”

The Rugby Expo Dinner & Awards in partnership with Greene King also returned for the fourth consecutive year, with more than 200 representatives gathered together to celebrate the success stories and stars of the sport.

The winners were BT Sport (sponsor of the year), Rugby Sevens at Glasgow 2014 (event of the year), Premiership Rugby and HITZ Programme (community programme of the year), O2 and ‘Wear the Rose’ (marketing campaign of the year) Ultimate Rugby mobile app (technical innovation of the year) and IRFU & Aviva Stadium (rugby venue of the year).

The evening culminated with the presentation of the Outstanding Contribution to Rugby Award; as the only category where the winner is nominated and selected by the judging panel, this year’s award was won by Stuart Gallacher, former Scarlets and Regional Rugby Wales chief executive who sadly passed away last month at the age of 68.

Close friend and former Cardiff Blues chief executive Bob Norster received the award on behalf of Stuart and his family.

Visit the website for photos from this year’s event and click here to register your interest in Rugby Expo 2015.

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