Rugby needs to break out of its amateur thinking! Owner of Durban-based Sharks Marco Masotti wants to embrace rogues like Rassie Erasmus and add America to the Champions Cup’s growing footprint
- Masotti has backed the divisive views of Springbok director of rugby Erasmus
- Erasmus received a two-match ban for criticising referees in social media videos
- Masotti’s Durban-based Sharks host Harlequins in the Champions Cup next week
Marco Masotti is sitting in his Midtown Manhattan office where he worked on the private equity deal to buy Chelsea earlier this year. In between meetings with Wall Street clients, he has blocked out half an hour of his diary to discuss the changing landscape of rugby.
Masotti bought the Durban-based Sharks last year and will watch them make their debut in the Champions Cup next Saturday, hosting Harlequins in South Africa as the competition extends its reach.
‘Let’s face it,’ he says. ‘Europe’s where all the rugby action is and we need to grow the pie. From time zone and broadcasting perspectives, it makes sense for South African teams to be in the Champions Cup. We want to win it. I hope the Sharks win and the Sale Shrimp lose!
Marco Masotti has backed the divisive views of Springbok director of rugby Rassie Erasmus
‘There’s a massive opportunity for rugby. Like the NFL in Europe, I can see Champions Cup games being played in America as we grow the sport towards the 2031 World Cup. If you sit on the Lincoln Memorial steps and look right, the two sports fields you see are rugby fields. We’ve got to do more. A Champions Cup final in New York or Washington? That has to be a goal. We’re two or three years away.
‘The value of live sport around the world is going up. Can rugby get its act together to join that bandwagon? It needs to make the right commercial and structural decisions because the structure is reflective of the past. We’re just seeing the same old thing. The amateur culture is so deep-seated in rugby. It needs to get comfortable with change.’
With the confidence of a New York lawyer, Masotti does not shirk strong opinions, adding: ‘South Africa in the Six Nations is the next step.’
Erasmus received a two-match ban for posting videos on social media criticising referees
On social media, he has publicly backed the divisive views of Springbok director of rugby Rassie Erasmus. Last year he offered to provide legal support for Erasmus to take on the establishment. More recently, he has joined the conversation on refereeing.
‘Rugby needs a good rogue,’ Masotti says with a laugh. ‘Of course I’m a fan of Rassie. He’s a rugby genius. Did he push the envelope a little too far with the latest round of tweets? Yes, but I love the issue of officiating that he’s raising. There is a discussion about how we take the sport to the next level of professionalism.
‘Every game I watch there’s an issue. I call it the bounce of the ref. South Africa had the bounce of the ref at Twickenham last week. Everyone’s fine with the subjectivity of the balance beam competition at the Olympics. There’s always a debate and maybe people are fine with that subjectivity. But I’m not.
‘There will always be errors but it’s impacting outcomes too much. We need to improve the package of the game entertainment-wise and you want accuracy. I would borrow some ideas from the NFL.
‘You’ve got to be careful about involving the TMO too much because you want speed. Maybe you have an extra official on the field. Maybe each coach has two challenges. Maybe in the last two minutes of the game, like in American football, that’s when the TMO steps in.’
To a large extent, Masotti’s outlook is reflective of the private equity firms currently buying into rugby. Ruthless, open-minded and professional. How does he see the ongoing involvement of CVC playing out?
‘At the moment you score a try and you run like a gentleman back to the halfway line,’ he says. ‘If you’re looking at it through the prism of America, you want to see people dance and have some fun.
‘If we’re going to get the next generation interested in the sport we need personality, we need rogues, we need controversy. It’s about monetising content, creating a membership app, increasing sponsorship income.
‘Rugby’s very conservative and we’ve got to get out of our shell and see if we can package it a little bit differently in order to get it to the next level.’