Roc Nation: How Yormark's team will make rugby 'cool' again
‘This is the league that will change the game.’
That bold statement, issued by Michael Yormark, CEO of Roc Nation Sports, paints a clear picture of what direction the United Rugby Championship hopes to take the game into.
Yormark was part of a ’round table’ panel discussion ahead of the opening round of the URC – which gets underway when Italian franchise Zebre host the Johannesburg-based Lions at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma on Friday, September 24.
Other members of this high-profile panel included Monty Ioane (Italian international and Benetton star), Jim Hamilton (former Scotland international media personality), Bob Skinstad (World Cup-winning Springbok and media personality) and Sean Holley (former title-winning Ospreys coach).
Yormark and his fellow panellists, were adamant now is the time to make the game ‘cool again’ and win over a new era of followers.
With Roc Nation having entered Rugby Union post the 2019 World Cup – through their representation of some high-profile players like Cheslin Kolbe, Siyamthanda Kolisi, Maro Itoje, Tendai Mtawarira, Sibusiso Nkosi and Aphelele Fassi – they have formed a ‘consulting partnership’ with the United Rugby Championship.
Yormark said the game needs to be “modernised”.
He spoke of the need to “entertain” – not just through rugby, but telling the stories of the players.
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“Being big and bold and breaking down boundaries is what Roc Nation stands for,” he said on the virtual panel discussion ahead of the opening round of the URC.
“It is an opportunity for us – while also helping our players – helping this game get to the next level.
“The URC is well-positioned for greatness moving forward.
“It can also lead to the modernisation of the sport.
“Martin [Anayi, CEO of URC] and his team are committed to doing that, making this sport better, expanding the fan base.”
He said the real ‘catalysts’ will be through giving the players a voice and a platform – to grown their brands, the brands of their teams and the competition.
Skinstad, capped 42 times by the Springbok and a 2007 World Cup winner, echoed the sentiments of Yormark, who said there is a desperate need to ‘modernise’ the game.
He touched on the professionalism of American sport and how rugby has “attempted” to embrace it, with limited success.
“Roc Nations has picked the right kind of players to cross barriers and generations,” Skinstad said.
While there is a passion for the game, the URC can lead the way to get the sport to the next level of professionalism.
Hamilton, capped 63 times by Scotland and a European Cup winner with English giants Saracens, said this partnership has come at a good time.
Hamilton, a RugbyPass contributor, is one of the high-profile former players that has stepped out to lift the profile of the game through his ‘storytelling’.
“Rugby – albeit being the ultimate team sport – it needs heroes,” the former Scotland international said.
“We need to make Rugby Union cool, make it accessible.
“It doesn’t need to be all about the game. It needs to be about the experiences, the stories, the athletes.”
Yormark agreed that the game now has an opportunity to be ‘cool’ again.
“We have to make it youth-oriented,” the Roc Nation boss said.
“We have to develop heroes, stars and personalities. Most importantly, we have to be brave in doing it.
“We can’t be married to the old traditions and history.
“We have to respect old traditions and history, but also understand that we have to take a step forward.
“It starts with the collaboration between the players, the teams and the URC.
“The leadership at the URC is so committed to this, so passionate about this, that this is the league that will change the game.”