Ruggette CEO Stef Evans stars in the rugby documentary, No Woman, No Try, and explains the business of women’s rugby throughout the film and in Part I of TRB interviews. The following picks up the conversation on packaging women’s sport, parallels to the U.S. game, and the youth.
“I love the MLR,” Evans pivoted to the game in the U.S. “They intrinsically understand about launching a league or launching a new sports product in any space. You fight for consumers’ interest and you have to invest in the packaging. That’s something a lot of teams in the MLR seem to understand in a much clearer way than we do over here [in England].
“Some of the work that the Giltinis do in LA, I think it’s absolutely brilliant,” Evans continued. “Having Fatman Scoop come in and run around with the mic at halftime – something simple like that and hyping it up, that’s what we need to be looking at doing and looking at why we’re not doing it. Because from a sport and performance perspective, the women’s game has come on leaps and bounds every single season. Even looking at game tape from 3-5 years ago from the women’s premiership, it’s almost mind-boggling how much we’ve progressed in terms of on-field performance and athlete development, individual team and national team development – it’s moving at breakneck speed. But all that is difficult to convert into increased consumer engagement without the packaging. That has to be invested in at the same rate.”
No Woman, No Try is filmed in the U.K., which is in a very different place rugby development wise than the U.S. And while many of the themes are universal, Evans is able to speak to the U.S. landscape. The Canadian and has actually lived and played in the states with Beantown, and sees how communities with different resources can better their situation today.
“We have this idea that there are things we can do in the future when things are ‘better’ than they are now,” Evans said. “But I think [on-field and off-field improvements] have to happen at the same time for everything to work.”
To illustrate, Evans relayed a WPL memory to explain her point. Beantown was traveling south to play New York, and so Evans invited her friends, who were former rugby teammates, to the game. Her friends did a little research to build some context around the match – the elite level of the league, the long histories of the two teams – and were impressed with their friend’s status.
“They drive to a very normal recreational field where there are no stands, no place for people to sit, and when they get there, there are people painting the lines who are also on the team,” Evans said. “It’s the same pitch that some kid’s going to play their Saturday soccer game on. There’s no decorum to it. And you could see it on [my friends’] faces; the packaging doesn’t make the product.”
Evans wasn’t denigrating the level of play or quality of the athletes, but the mixed messaging of the environment, which again, impacts the audience’s perceived value of the product.
“Even if you were a diehard Hermes or Gucci – whatever luxury brand you like – even if you deeply believed in that brand, if you loved the story of the founder and very much bought into the ideology of what that brand was trying to do, and you were happy to support it no matter what,” Evans said. “At the end of the day if you pay for something that is supposed to be precious and it arrives thrown into a bag without packaging or a name on it, you’re never going to look at it as being valuable, even if it’s a bar of gold. If it comes and someone’s put care and attention into how they present it to you, it will always hold more value to you even if it’s not a gold bar.”
Some of these improvements aren’t huge financial investments, but time and attention investments. And again, can be very simple. In the Allianz Premier 15s, every Friday, every team circulates a high-quality graphic with roster and game information. There’s a routine burst of content the day before the games kick off, and it builds excitement. For a U.S. example, look at the West Coast Rugby Conference, which is a champion on social media, event production and engagement.
Evans also works with Girls Rugby Club in the U.K. and sees the work that needs to be done at the age grade and grassroots levels, too. Last summer, she sat with the Youth Advisory Board, which held a panel discussion with its youth players and talked about what success looks like in rugby and for individuals.
“It was really interesting,” Evans said when she asked the group for their goals. “All of them said, ‘I want to captain England.’
“O.K., ‘If all of us in this room don’t captain England, will we have failed,” she continued. “They all said, yes.
“What do you think captaining will get you,” Evans posed.
“I’ll be able to be an inspiration and have influence and improve things for people,” she recited their answers. “I’ll be able to give back. And if I don’t get that, then I don’t know how I’ll do the other things.”
“It’s really important to remember if your end goal is to be involved in the community that makes you feel good, and you want to give back to that community and build that community, playing at the elite level is not the only way you can do that,” Evans countered. “You can do that at literally any level and achieve that in a local way. If you want to do it in a bigger way at an elite level, then being an administrator and working in a club in any professional role that is not on the field, you can achieve that as well. Being a ref and working and officiating a game achieves that as well as is very visible. There are a lot of roles within support staff and teams that are really rewarding and have a much longer shelf life than a player does.”
That mindset work follows the same strain of thought that multi-dimensional investment, all occurring simultaneously, is needed for holistic growth.
“The message I wanted them and anyone playing at a younger or community level to understand is the idea of visibility and identifying role models is certainly not restricted to a playing group and certainly not just an elite playing group,” Evans closed. “We need visibility and role models at all different levels in all different roles because that’s how things get changed. It’s not just increasing participation in one specific section. If we’re only growing female players but not growing female refs, female administrators, female union employees, then that’s not going to change people making decisions.”