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Interview with Vincent Gaillard, CEO at EPCR - European Professional Club Rugby.
The levels of passion, loyalty, and respect in RW is out of this world
Vincent Gaillard, CEO at EPCR - European Professional Club Rugby.
Vincent Gaillard, CEO at EPCR - European Professional Club Rugby.Google

SiS/AD- Vincent, thanks for being with us, at the beginning of your career, did you imagine yourself leading one of the biggest rugby organizations?

VG- I certainly did not, which probably says a lot about the difficulties – and questions the importance and relevance – of long-term career planning! I believe that one has to stay agile and open to unique opportunities when they arise. This was certainly one for me.

SiS- What is EPCR about (for those who do not know)?

VG- Simply put, we are about running two major European club rugby competitions through a mandate we have received from the 6 big rugby unions (Ireland, France, England, Scotland, Wales, Italy) and the 3 professional leagues (LNR-Top-14 in France, Premiership Rugby in England, Guinness Pro-14 in Wales, Italy, Scotland, Ireland) of Europe. Our flagship competition is the Heineken Champions Cup (the “Champions League of Rugby”) for the best 20 clubs in Europe, and we also organize the Challenge Cup, for the next 20 best clubs.

SiS- What were the challenges you had to face taking your position as CEO of EPCR?

VG- The main challenge involved managing a complete strategic, operational and commercial turn-around of the European professional club rugby competitions from their new home in Switzerland, under a new governance and new operating model; developing a new team; settling a new commercial model; while ensuring the competitions represent the best there is in worldwide club rugby.

SiS- What were your main growth drivers and your main results? (great if you can illustrate with business figures)

VG- The main drivers were to grow the exposure and accessibility of our competition across domestic and international markets, through both traditional/linear TV and less traditional/non-linear viewing platforms, to reflect the change in the way sport is being consumed. We just concluded season 1 of a new cycle, which has translated, for instance, into our Finals being screened in 170 countries, or a live audience in the UK growing by more than 80% over the course of the season. A very successful outcome from our perspective.

SiS- Speaking about media rights, what are your plans in a changing landscape with growing OTTs and direct to consumer solutions?

VG- The plans are to stay very alert to the ongoing revolution in the way sport is being consumed, and agile in the way we adapt to it in such a way that we can maintain an optimal revenue/exposure equilibrium. For now, it has meant finding a balance between linear and non-linear, and in the case of the latter, bringing on board new OTT /DTC players, such as DAZN, who now own carry our competitions in key markets such as Japan, Italy, Canada, Germany, or, in the USA, broadcasting most our matches through NBC’s own OTT platform.

SiS- New generations have different habits, expectations, what does it mean for EPCR? How do you engage with fans?

VG- Above and beyond the above, it also means for EPCR working on new, shorter formats to allow new generations to follow our competitions through their preferred digital platforms, or growing lifestyle content vs. pure sporting performance content.

SiS- Top rugby countries are very few, what are your plans to extend the participation of second or third tier countries?

VG- While we not have, strictly speaking, a mandate to grow participation and grassroots rugby – a role that is being fulfilled by World Rugby and the various unions around the world – we, of course, have an objective to grown our fanbase in new territories, providing new experiences to our traditional fans, and reaching out to new fans in all corners of Europe and hopefully beyond. We do this in a number of ways, such as bringing key events to new countries, as was the case with Bilbao/Spain who hosted our 2018 Finals, for instance. In terms of actual participation of second-tier clubs in our competitions, we have a pathway for clubs from “emerging” rugby countries, such as Russia, Romania, Georgia, Germany, Spain, to play in the Challenge Cup where they get to compete against top clubs from tier 1 countries.

SiS- What are you the proudest of?

VG- Having properly settled the organization in Switzerland; grown the exposure of our competitions and the reputation of our organization; leading a very diverse team of great, highly-talented, passionate individuals.

SiS- What surprised you the most?

VG- The levels of passion, loyalty, and respect is seen in Rugby Union are truly out of this world! With all the talk about the “rugby values” progressively disappearing with the rise of professionalism, financial interests and politics, I find them still very much alive and kicking, which is highly refreshing.

SiS- After 4 years, what is next for EPCR?

VG- Grow exposure of our competitions, grow our fanbase across the world, grow revenues for our stakeholders, while maintaining the highest levels of good-governance and ensuring we take our social-environmental responsibilities with the utmost seriousness.

SiS- How do you picture your competitions in a few years? and business wise?

VG- The Heineken Champions Cup is undoubtedly the best club rugby competition in the world but still appeals to a fairly traditional fan base. I would like to grow that fanbase with completely new audiences, new demographics, younger and more female audiences, in particular.

SiS- Any additional message you would like to share with SiS community?

VG- The path to genuine, meaningful innovation can be long and complex for older, traditional, established sports. “Innovation” can have multiple meanings, and each has to find what it means for them and their audience, as blindly following the latest trends do not necessarily provide relevant sustainable answers. The financing of that innovation can also be tricky. Challenging but incredibly exciting indeed!

Vincent Gaillard, CEO at EPCR - European Professional Club Rugby.Google
Jeese Lovejoy at Beyond Innovation SummitBeyond Innovation Summit
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