World Cup organisers demand 'buy-in' from venues
September 17, 2012
England Rugby 2015 chief operating officer Ross Young insists his organisation would be "mad" not to consider using the Olympic Stadium © Getty Images
Possible RWC'15 Venues
World Cup organisers England Rugby 2015 (ER 2015) have thrown down the gauntlet to those towns and cities hoping to play host to the tournament.
The venue selection process for Rugby World Cup 2015 is well underway with a suitability audit having already taken place at the 22 stadiums in the mix but ground standards are only part of the equation with ER 2015 chief operating officer Ross Young revealing that the 'buy-in' from the would-be partners - both financial and logistical - is set to be a key factor.
"We have been the length and breadth of the country talking to the clubs and venue owners that expressed an interest through the bid phase and we also went out there to see if anyone else was interested in hosting World Cup games," Young told reporters as ER 2015 began the three-year countdown to the sport's next showpiece.
"We have to engage with cities, it is not just about the venues," he added. "We can't selotape 48 games together to make a major event. It's about having buy-in, and it doesn't necessarily mean cash, from cities and regions to utilise their infrastructure, to provide the Fan Zones like those we saw in New Zealand.
"It is also about using the previous Rugby World Cup experiences. The engagement in the festival in New Zealand took Rugby World Cup to another level altogether. France, in terms of size and capacity, was the biggest and we need to try and combine both of those and by mixing both we can take the whole thing to another level."
The level of engagement in the recent London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics made a significant impression on Young and his colleagues who are set to be joined by one of the architects of that triumph - Debbie Jevans - when she joins the organisation as their new chief executive next month.
But the link up with the Olympics is set to extend beyond that if officials get their way. Young confirmed that they remain hopeful of securing the use of the Olympic Stadium once the long-running debate as to the future use of the venue is resolved.
"Unfortunately there is still some uncertainty about exactly what is going to happen with regards to full time landlords for Olympic Park," admitted Youngs. "But we have engaged with the Olympic legacy company since the very early part of this year and I think you would be mad not to include it as part of your thinking."
Premier League football club West Ham United are thought to be firm favourites to secure tenancy with a final decision due next month and if that comes to fruition it is likely to be one of several football stadiums used - alongside the likes of Manchester United's Old Trafford ground and Leeds' Elland Road home - in a bid to meet their target of 2.9m ticket sales.
"We have to engage with football clubs because they are the only ones who can give is the capacity to able to drive the number we need," explained Young with Gloucester's Kingsholm and Leicester's Welford Road the only traditional club grounds vying to play a part in the tournament.
The Olympic Stadium is set to be reduced from its current 80,000 capacity to something nearer 60,000 in the near future with that drop in possible ticket revenue set to rule it out of contention for hosting a knock-out game. Young hinted that the stadium's excellent travel options and links to the continent via Eurostar could make it the perfect venue for a game featuring France or Italy or both sides but they are not short of options.
"We have gone through a venue suitability audit with all those stakeholders and there are some great venues out there from the 60-70,000 capacity venues through to the 35-40,000 ones and now it is a case of picking them in conjunction with the match schedule, after the pool allocation draw in December, to best meet the fit of not just rugby fans but sports fans.
"There is a whole degree of excitement around major events and we want to harness that to give the rugby family and those who have been supporting rugby here and around the world the opportunity to see games. We are confident that we will get those venues lined up at the end of this year and early next year and have the right balance to get up to the 97-98% occupancy that we were lucky enough to do in New Zealand and France."
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.