SPORTS

83% of fans want Premiership Rugby draft

Maybe a good idea in theory, but would it work here?

*  98% of those in favour of Premiership Rugby draft believe it would make the league more exciting

*  65% of those in favour think a Premiership Rugby Draft Day would add another layer of entertainment to the league

*  Only 12% would not be in favour of Premiership Rugby draft, with 5% undecided

Personally, I don’t think it would work for reasons I’ll explain at the end of this piece.

Data suggests that it is much easier for Premiership Rugby teams to maintain their high status and winning record than it is for NFL teams (since the 1995-96 season, no team has followed a Premiership winning campaign with two or more straight losing seasons. By comparison, the New York Giants won the 2012 Super Bowl but have had six out of seven losing seasons since).

Rugby tickets company Liverugbytickets.co.uk has surveyed 1,200 Premiership Rugby supporters in a bid to determine whether fans are in favour of the league adopting an NFL-style draft in the coming years. What’s more, a data driven approach was taken in order to predict whether or not the switch would make the league more entertaining for fans by levelling the playing field even further (following the introduction of salary cap regulations in 1999 … which were ignored by London side Saracens).

Survey results: Each Premiership club was represented in the survey by 100 fans. The respondents overwhelmingly supported the introduction of an NFL-style draft in England’s top rugby union competition, with 83% saying they would be in favour of the change, 12% disagreeing with it, and 5% being unable to decide whether the move would be beneficial or detrimental to the competition.

Reasons for supporting NFL-style draft in Premiership Rugby: Reasons for not supporting NFL-style draft in Premiership rugby:

In Favour of NFL-Style Draft Not in Favour of NFL-Style Draft Undecided
83% 12% 5%
Reason % of respondents
It would make the league more exciting by giving lesser teams a better chance of competing for the championship 98%
Draft Day would add another layer of entertainment to the league 65%
Reason % of respondents
It would be too difficult/costly to implement 86%
It would ruin the current youth system 58%

It would seem most Premiership Rugby fans are aware of how the NFL draft works and are attracted to the idea for all the right reasons.

Alomost everyone (98%) agrees the league would become more exciting as a result. The rationale behind the draft is to increase the competitive parity between teams competing against each other. As teams with the worst records in the previous season are able to choose the best young recruits available, talent becomes more evenly distributed, bridging the gap between teams and adding to the overall level of entertainment which fans experience.

The NFL have cemented their draft day as a successful and attractive event in itself, with millions tuning in each year to see which players are added to their favourite teams’ rosters. With 65% of survey respondents agreeing that a Premiership Rugby draft day would add another layer of entertainment to the league, it shouldn’t be difficult for the premier English rugby league to turn the event into a commercial success.

Stats zone Would a draft really improve the entertainment quality of the league?

In the seven-year period starting in 1987 (the year the Premiership was founded) and ending with the 1993-94 season (the last season before the salary cap rule was introduced in the Premiership), three teams won the rugby premiership; four NFL teams won the Super Bowl in the same period.

Premiership Rugby made the switch to professionalism starting with the 1995-96 season. Since then, there have been 13 Superbowl champions compared with eight Premiership champions. What’s more, the Premiership has seen Leicester crowned six times, and Wasps and Saracens winning the ultimate prize five times, with the next five teams on the list only boasting one championship each during this period. On the other hand, the NFL has seen the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl six times, the Denver Broncos three times, and four other teams managing to win it twice (Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers), ahead of seven one-time winners.

There have been eight different Super Bowl champions in the past 10 seasons, compared with just five different Premiership Rugby champions during the same period.

Since 1994-1995 24 teams have participated in England’s top rugby competition, with nine having won the Premiership (37.5%). In the NFL, almost half (15 of 32 teams) have won.

The data supports the idea that the draft system seems to make for a more level playing field, leading to higher chances of better teams falling off their pedestal and lesser ones rising to the top.

In order to illustrate the point further, we may take the example of the New York Giants. After having won the Super Bowl in both 2008 and 2012, the Giants have had six out of seven losing seasons, with their total win/loss ratio over the past three coming in at just 25%.

By comparison, since the 1995-96 season, only two teams followed Premiership Rugby winning runs with losing seasons (Wasps went 8-1-13 in 1997-98 after having won in 1996-97 and Sale Sharks followed their 2005-2006 title win with the same 8-1-13 record the next season). Furthermore, since 1995-96, no team has followed a Premiership winning campaign with two or more straight losing seasons.

There can be little doubt that the desire to see a more even playing field in rugby is good for the game. Some supporters are obviously tired of the same sides winning everything. Though, just recently, Saracens have been given a nasty jolt.

So, I have sympathy for those who would like to see the trophies shared around a little more. The NFL draft is great in theory though a little flawed in practice. In essence, the team with the worst record in a season gets first pick of all the stars graduating from the college game for the next. Second worst team gets second pick and so on.

If the worst team picks wisely their choice can have a real impact. Before the start of this season, for example, the San Francisco 49ers had been consistently poor. However, they had No 2 pick and chose a defensive end named Nick Bosa whose current record for the season (ahead of tomorrow’s game) is 47 tackles and nine sacks. Not bad for a rookie season. It would be daft to claim this, by itself, has led to a turnaround in Niners fortunes. But they are in tomorrow night’s Super Bowl so it is possible that they have gone from one of the worst to best (or certainly second best at least) within 12 months. Can you imagine a turnaround like that in rugby?

Of course, not always the best players are picked early in the NFL draft. Six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady, for example, was chosen 199th! Brady has appeared in a total of nine Super Bowls for the New England Patriots, but has missed out this year. However, his former understudy at Foxborough, Jimmy Garoppolo has turned out okay and will lead the 49ers tomorrow night.

A small insight into how the draft works in the US

A lot of horse trading goes on the the draft system with teams sacrificing picks for favours or players. If you are interested in knowing more I commend a film to you – Draft Day starring Kevin Costner. Watching that will explain it better than I can and in a more entertaining way.

So why do I think a draft system wouldn’t work here? Two main reasons – relegation and the American college system.

In American football, there is no system of relegation. Teams who finish bottom of their league go nowhere. They may up sticks and move to another city (the Raiders will play in Las Vegas next season) but there is no relegation. In Premiership rugby there is relegation. So how would it work? If the bottom (relegated team) gets first pick in the draft they would only be able to use it to their advantage in the second tier – the Greene King IPA Championship. What really top player wants to play second tier rugby?

What about the college system? There is no real equivalent here. In the US, many fans of American Football actually prefer watching college games. College teams try crazy things. There is a lot more passing of the ball for one thing. But the college game acts as a feeder system for the NFL. What would be a feeder system for rugby here in the UK? I’m not sure there is one.

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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