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Leading club bosses clash on the future of midweek Premiership fixtures

(Photo by Ashley Western/MB Media/Getty Images)

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Two leading Premiership bosses have voiced different opinions on the merit of midweek games in the English league. Exeter boss Rob Baxter has cautioned against introducing midweek matches on a permanent basis unless there are compelling financial reasons, but Bristol boss Pat Lam has begged to differ.


The Gallagher Premiership has completed two rounds of games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in order to finish a season that was interrupted for five months because of the coronavirus pandemic, and they have now announced the dates for the closing round of midweek games.

The gruelling schedule is taking a toll on squads but midweek fixtures have proved popular, with Bristol boss Lam among those to call for their introduction in future campaigns. Baxter, however, believes the numbers would not add up – even on international weekends when the focus is on Test rugby.

“I understand the argument around building TV audiences and broadening the game,” said Baxter, whose Chiefs team are 14 points clear at the summit of the Premiership. “That’s great if you get greater TV exposure that creates income, but you have to know what you’re doing it for because there’s nothing to say it will create an extra revenue stream.

“You can’t just stick midweek fixtures in willy-nilly because someone says it’s a good idea. There has to be some proof showing why it would work and why it’s financially viable. Most clubs need to maximise their ticket sales, but also their hospitality and beer sales.

“There are so many things tied up in how we finance the club beyond the TV money, so it only makes sense if there’s more TV money. Selling midweek games at Sandy Park would be a no-go because we wouldn’t be allowed any kind of crowd here on those nights and that’s why we don’t play on Fridays.


“We don’t have permission to overload the area traffic-wise, it’s not feasible. At the moment the midweek games work fantastically because there’s nobody there. We have had some of biggest earning days on international weekends. Supporters come to watch us and then they watch England play in the bar. It’s a full day of rugby with a sell-out crowd.

“There’s nothing that we’ve seen that tells us playing during the week in international weeks would be the right thing to do.”

Taking the opposite view, Lam has urged Premiership Rugby to consider staging some rounds outside their traditional home on the weekends. “When the internationals are on and we have to play through the Six Nations, it would be fantastic to play in midweek,” Lam said.

“Instead of going Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday you’d be doing Wednesday-Wednesday and allowing internationals to take the weekends. Instead of us competing by having early kick-offs, put the games in midweek. Supporters have enjoyed watching evening kick-offs on TV. It’s a possible way forward.


“What I am advocating is midweek rugby with a seven-day turnaround. That could really work and be good for Premiership Rugby. There are a lot of pluses in that sort of structure.”


Tues, Sept 22: Bath v Gloucester (5.30pm)

Mon, Sept 28: Harlequins v Wasps (7.45pm)

Tues, Sept 29: Northampton v Sale (5.30pm)

Weds, Sept 30: Exeter v London Irish (5.30pm), Bristol v Leicester (5.30pm), Worcester v Saracens (5.30pm)



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