Answer: There is a huge amount of work that goes into assembling the Guinness PRO14 fixture list and we know that our clubs and their fans are eager to see it as soon as they can so they can plan for the new season.
Naturally, efficiencies are introduced to speed up the process, but there is a long list of criteria that our fixture list needs to fulfil and there are a wide range of factors that impact on the time it takes to put it all together.
Q: What kind of factors do you have to consider?
A: All of our clubs and broadcasters are major stakeholders in this process and we have to balance their needs as best we can in a way that is beneficial to the success of the tournament.
Firstly, the Guinness PRO14 is an international tournament which spans the UK, Ireland, Italy and South Africa and in almost every ‘out of country fixture’ our teams must travel by air. This means the logistics are far greater for our teams than they are for competitions which take place within just one country.
Tours to and from South Africa also require a 7-day turnaround and, in many instances, teams are playing two games per tour meaning that these fixtures cannot span a break in game rounds (gaps for internationals or European games). Beyond that, we have a number of clubs who have traditional kick-off times, i.e. Fridays at 19:35, that we work hard to maintain.
Some teams are based in cities and others in more rural areas, as such each club has travel routes unique to them which can impact on how fans get to the game and what kick-off times are more likely to make it easier for them to attend.
Two of our clubs (Ospreys and Dragons) share their venues with football clubs which can create availability clashes so to avoid this, we must also wait for the Football League fixtures to come out in June to ensure venue availability is not affected where possible. Other potential conflicts can arise after the Football League TV schedule is finalized, hence why Ospreys have some fixtures still listed as TBC
Other venues across the Championship may also be impacted by entertainment and sporting events taking place in their cities at different times of the year.
In Italy, evening kick-offs are preferred at the beginning of the season to avoid playing in high temperatures and historically those clubs have been keen to play away from home more often in the early parts of the season.
Time zones also come into play with Italy and South Africa one hour ahead of the UK and Ireland. In the winter months (October 28 to March 31) South Africa are two hours ahead of the UK and Ireland.
Additionally, around certain fixtures (including derbies) some clubs may request to use a different venue as their home ground. Again, these venues may have operations criteria that impact on the timing of kick-offs and this also has to be taken into account.
Q: When do you start planning the fixture list for the following season?
A: The groundwork begins towards the end of the current season when a list of criteria, more extensive than listed above, is placed into a software program and a rough draft is created. Tours to and from South Africa must be balanced up against the dates for European Rounds and International weekends. We must also take into account that December is mostly a non-playing month in South Africa and as such the Toyota Cheetahs and Southern Kings have their derby fixtures moved to January and/or February.
Q: How are games selected for television?
A: Once the provisional fixture list has been shared with the teams and requests or clashes have been flagged, the fixtures are sent to our broadcasters ahead of a selection meeting. Generally, the broadcaster hosting the fixture (Premier Sports in the UK, eir sport & TG4 in Republic of Ireland or Super Sport in South Africa) will select a time slot for the game and PRO14 Rugby will work to ensure that (where possible) it meets the traditional KO preferences of the home team.
Once this process is complete the updated fixture list is distributed to our clubs to allow them time to book their travel and accommodation before the fixtures are made public which would affect the costs involved. Once all clubs have confirmed that their arrangements are in place then PRO14 Rugby can publish the fixture list.
Q: How can you speed up this process in future seasons?
A: Over the past decade the Championship fixtures have always been published in the second or third week in July. The exception was last year when the South African expansion meant the fixtures could not be released until early August.
The primary factor around the release date is ensuring that all of our clubs have their travel and accommodation booked before the fixtures go public. We understand that supporters and clubs are always keen to have this information as early as possible and we will always aim to get the fixtures published finalised as quickly as we can.
Q: I can see there are some Sunday games scheduled across the first 17 rounds, why is this?
A: The primary slots for Guinness PRO14 games are Friday evenings and Saturday afternoon and evenings, however, in order to avoid clashes with international games at certain points of the season it is necessary to play games on Sundays.
Additionally, clubs who share their ground football teams can end up with fixture clashes and although we have worked to avoid as often as possible there are some parts of the calendar where it was not possible to do so.