|Ian Ritchie - CEO, Rugby Football Union|
|Profile of the week|
Friday, 15 February 2013 14:14
Previously CEO of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club for six years, Ian has more than 30 years’ experience across business, media and sport.
Ian has held several senior non-executive positions with leading UK sporting organisations, including serving as the first independent non-executive director of a domestic football governing body, when he served on the Board of the Football League from April 2004 to December 2011. He was also a member of the Wembley Stadium Board from July 2008 until December 2011.
He became a barrister after studying Law at university but soon moved to Granada TV, starting a very successful career in TV and media, including as Channel 5 Chief Executive. He was Vice President of Global business for the Associated Press and in his time there was also Chairman of SNTV. He was joint Chairman of Sports News Television from 2002 until moving in 2005 to the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, raising the status of The Championships, Wimbledon, and growing the tournament commercially while retaining its traditional values.
Ian is married to Jill, they have two sons and live in Surrey.
How has your previous experience as CEO of All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club helped you in your role at the RFU?
I have been around managing events and I have had dealings in professional sport, not only in tennis but in football. Therefore some of the relevant matters from event management like contracts and dealing with professional athletes are things that I had been familiar with. I think the other side is that you have to recognize that every sport is different and unique. You only bring some relevant broad experience but also understand that you have got to appreciate the unique culture of the game that you are now involved with. That is certainly true in rugby.
There has been debate as to where the England vs. Wales Rugby World Cup (RWC) match should be played. You have expressed your desire to play at Twickenham Stadium. Why Twickenham over alternative venues?
The first thing to say is that it is not my decision. That is a matter for England Rugby 2015 (ER2015) and the IRB. From our point of view, Twickenham is a fantastic stadium where we get wonderful support. It is a RWC that we are hosting and we think that Twickenham is a world class venue to host England games. That said I think we’ll see what comes out of the mix.
The RFU has previously announced plans for a £76m upgrade to Twickenham, ahead of 2015. What can fans expect of the renovation and what do you hope this will achieve?
It is important that we continue to modernise. It has become a superb stadium after the investment that’s happened over the years. We will continue to invest and improve. We upgraded the pitch and I think that looks very impressive and works extremely well. We are looking to do a lot on improving Wi-Fi access and to enhance the fan experience in a digital sense. We are also continually looking at the bars and the toilets, improving the basics like water and electricity. Some of the fundamentals, things that are not particularly exciting but they have to be right and work well.
We have all seen what happens if power goes wrong at certain venues. New LED screens, big screens and those things that help you engage with the fans like Wi-Fi. It’s a combination of the high-tech and the fundamentals, as well as the pitch. What we will have, I believe, is a stadium that is more than fit for purpose, to hold a RWC in 2015. That is why we are investing in the next three years and beyond.
The list of potential venues for the RWC2015 was released last year and the RFU said they wanted to reach as much of the country as possible. What steps are you taking to ensure this and which parts of the country do you see as the most viable in creating revenue?
The most important thing for us is creating the interest. The board will meet over the next few weeks to finalise the list, but I think it is very important to have it across the country. We have great participation levels in rugby in the north of England, the midlands, the south west and we want to make sure that we provide venues across the country that can give all the fans an opportunity to come.
The two most important things for us probably, coming out of this World Cup will be participation levels and engagement; engagement with the event and the growth of participation before, during and after the World Cup. When we are looking at the final selection of venues, the factors that I have just talked about will be right at the forefront of why we select particular venues.
Although Rugby is a popular sport in England, what are you doing to try and raise the profile of English Rugby ahead of the RWC?
The RWC is not just a 44 day event in 2015, it is a five year plan. We have already announced plans to invest in more volunteers, more coaches, more referees, better facilities, getting more schools to play rugby, and broadening the reach and appeal of the game through Touch rugby. We have started doing that now because we anticipate that there will be a growth in participation and equally we are in a good position to be able to invest after it as well. The beauty of the RFU hosting the RWC is: we are a governing body, it is a single governing body event and we are able to invest and get ready for it. The key legacy for me has to be an increased awareness of rugby, increased participation levels and when we look back afterwards, those are the things that have to be really important.
The Six Nations tournament has kicked off. What has the RFU been doing in terms of marketing strategies?
The broad strategy has to be engagement with our sponsors and then to reach out through our sponsors to connect with our fans. That is why we have seen a lot of digital activation with BMW and Twitter campaigns and the Sweet Chariot campaign. We are doing a lot with O2 with the priority moments. We just recently announced a tie-in with IBM, which is about developing our CRM systems but also on Try Tracker which looks at statistics and predictive analytics around the game. All of these things have a common thread but for us digital activation with and through our sponsors is very important.
This has benefits across the game, most importantly the grassroots, where we are looking to make rugby more attractive at all levels. The other element is that we have to keep on enhancing our content. We re-launched RFUTV.com and we are looking to further increase our traffic onto our Digital platforms. We are fortunate to have sold out stadiums for most of the matches and we want to engage with those who are here, but the digital activation engages us with hundreds and thousands of people outside the stadium who can then share the build-up, the event and the post-match interest as well.