JON PETRIE, the managing director of Edinburgh Rugby, and Dominic McKay, the chief operating officer of the SRU, met the press yesterday [Thursday] morning to unveil their plans for the creation of a custom-built stadium to be located on the back pitches at Murrayfield, which will provide a base that the capital city’s professional team can finally regards as their own permanent home.
Plans to rebrand the club in order to take full advantage of the positive energy being created by Richard Cockerill’s team on the park were also announced. Edinburgh was renowned as one of Europe’s great rugby cities during the amateur era, and the aim is to celebrate that heritage through a change in the club’s colours and badge.
Here are 10 key statements from Petrie [JP] and McKay [DM] which came out of the briefing –
1. Why was building this venue on the back pitches at Murrayfield the best option?
DM: “We all know the challenges we have had over the years trying to find an appropriate home for Edinburgh rugby. We are blessed with having the largest stadium in Scotland here at BT Murrayfield, but it’s just really too big for professional rugby. We’ve looked around and we’ve crawled across all the venues across Edinburgh and the surrounding area, and we had a successful and enjoyable time Myreside but for various reasons that will not be the permanent home for Edinburgh.
“We have the advantage of having a lot of space and we have a lot of options to do something ourselves. So, we’ve decided to do that on two of the back pitches to give ourselves an initial capacity of 7,800.
“We now have a flood defence system around the site, which was never there before. That gives us the confidence to make an investment.
“We’ve also got the financial wherewithal to make these big investment decisions. We’ve transformed our financial position in recent years. In 2011, we were turning over £33 million [per year]; this year we are turning over almost £55 million. We’ve grown our revenues in a short space of time and we’ve sold out every Scotland game for the past eight games. We want to invest that money to benefit rugby, and a key area which everyone has noticed over the years is a permanent and appropriate home for Edinburgh.
“For larger games, whether the 1872 Cup or big European games, we can always go back into BT Murrayfield itself. This year, we had 50,000 supporters coming to watch Edinburgh’s two home games against Glasgow, which shows that there is a real appetite for rugby in the city and scope for growth.”
2. What sort of timescale are we looking at?
JP: “We have been working very closely with the City of Edinburgh Council. We didn’t just drop an application in cold today, so there has been an on-going piece of work with them over a decent period of time.
“That planning application goes in today and kicks off a process. It’s a local development because the site is under two hectares, so we are expecting that to work through over the course of the next couple of months with a view to having a decision from the council towards the start of the 2018-19 season, and on the basis of a successful result from that, the intention is to be braking ground on the project around the Autumn, with the target of being ready for play in the 2019-20 season.
“In terms of the local community, we have already started on a pretty proactive set of consultations and conversations with residents, resident groups and with our neighbours. Hopefully that helps people fully understand what we are trying to do, and they’ll want to get on board with it.
“We had a very successful period of doing that at Myreside where it underwent some level of challenge in the local area in advance of us going there, but through the time we were up there that relationship with local community really turned around and ended up being quite a positive one.
“All these aspects of the Myreside experience – not least the community engagement – we’ve take a lot from that and will put that into play around here as well.
3. Will this new facility be an authentic base for Edinburgh with back office operations for the club transferred out of the main stadium?
JP: “We’ll be able to do a mix and it’s important we do. We’ll be putting in place some new facilities which will sit alongside the stadium but we’ll also be making use of what we’ve got on site here already. That will develop over time through the planning process and when we get into the build stage.”
DM: “The matchday experience has maybe not been as good as other rugby activities we get involved in. What we’ve tried to do with the plans is to make sure the new venue is built with the supporter in mind.”
4. How much is it going to cost?
DM: “It’s a significant investment for us. I’m not going to give you a number, naturally, but it is a significant investment – although not eye-watering in the sense that we are a governing body so every penny is a prisoner.
“We made a significant investment when we moved across Glasgow in partnership with the city, and this is a slightly larger investment, but we believe it will pay back over time because of the importance to the club, the importance the supporters and the importance to the broadcasters.”
5. Will the 3G surface really be suitable for football and other sports matches?
DM: “The 3G surface that we have at Scotstoun is not only IRB compliant but can also be FIFA and UEFA compliant, so you can play both codes on the same surface if you spec them to the right high standard – and the intention is that the purpose we put into Edinburgh is the same, high-quality 3G surface. That’s one of the things we are particularly proud about is that you can sweat that asset in a number of different ways.”
6. Is there a danger that the SRU’s determination to invest in artificial pitches could come back to bite them on the backside? Is there any substance in recent complaints from the Scarlets about the pitch at Scotstoun?
DM:“We’ve got no concerns. Of course, we listened to the feedback we saw through the media and we engaged with the Scarlets, but they had played on the surface before. Every time you get the pitch prepared you make sure you liaise with the opposition and give them a bit of advice. So, we’ve got no concerns about it from a Glasgow Warriors point of view, we’ve got no concerns from an Edinburgh Rugby point of view, and as a national team we have enjoyed playing on artificial surfaces. 3G surfaces are part of the future, particularly for parts of the world where it can be a bit inclement.
“One of the feedbacks we have had within Pro14 is that having certainty of surface is very important for the coaches, players and officials. We had a lot of sleepless nights around that Scotstoun pitch until we put the new surface in. We are really pleased with 3G as a surface.”
7. How does this new facility tie-in with the club’s rebranding?
JP: “This is the next step in our transformation as a club. The work Cockers [Richard Cockerill] has done with the performance group during the course of this year has been great, and the transformation of that group and the way they have performed on the field has been fantastic to see.”
“It’s the right time to do this but also a number of other things alongside that, which is why we are taking the opportunity to rebrand the club at the same time.
“We caveat that by saying this is not about changing the name of the club. The name of the club is Edinburgh and it will stay as Edinburgh. It’s important for us to look to remember our history and heritage. We’ve been here for 145 years and it’s important that we recognise that, so we will be going back to the traditional colours of Edinburgh District, playing in predominantly dark blue [along with a burnt orange colour ‘inspired by the city’s volcanic beginnings at Castle Rock and Arthur’s Seat’] and we’ll be introducing a new logo from next year as well which is redolent of the original District badge.”
“The new strip will be unveiled ahead of the new season. We announced yesterday that we are playing Bath as our first pre-season match and we’ll be doing that in our new strips.
“A big thing in terms of the culture the head coach is putting in place with this group is the history of what’s been there before us, and it’s important that we stay connected and reconnect with that as well.
“A big part of this is about creating the best product, at the best value and putting it in the right environment because this is the right time for people in the city to sit up and take notice of what we’re doing.”
8. How much has Richard Cockerill been a driving force in this?
JP: “I wouldn’t say he’s been a driving force, but he is someone I clearly work very closely with on all aspects of it. He was quite right when he came in. We’ve had a nomadic existence, an underperforming team, and we’re now sorting that out.
“When he came in he didn’t particularly find a performance culture and he’s certainly put one in place. It’s been great to marry up what we’ve been doing on the field with what we’re doing off the field. We want this club to come to life in the best way possible.”
9. Apart from the new strip and badge, how will Edinburgh fans be brought into this brave new future for the club before the opening of the new venue?
JP: “We want to make this a really accessible club. So, going into next season when we are playing in the main bowl before moving into a new stadium, we will be reducing many of our ticket prices: giving the opportunity through at least the first half of the PRO14 season for all under-16s to come free, and we’ll be creating really competitive season ticket prices, because we want people to sit up and take notice and really get behind this club.
“We’ve had a very strong recruitment plan into next year with great players who will come in and enhance that squad. We can look forward to a really positive season next year.”
10. How concerned are you about having three Super 6 franchises on your doorstep?
JP: “Super 6 is clearly an interesting initiative for everyone in Scottish rugby and we’re looking forward to working alongside those clubs that have been nominated into that space to create a really strong collaborative rugby product across the city, with the city’s professional club at the head of that.
“It’s important for us as the city’s professional team that we take a lead on things, to set our stall out.
“We’ll be working alongside those clubs, but this is first and foremost a home for Edinburgh rugby. The Super 6 clubs are relatively newly announced, so they’ve got a significant amount of work to do to get themselves into the right space as well, but we’re looking forward to the conversations with them. I’ve got no idea what they’re wanting to do venue wise, but first and foremost this is our home and it’s for us to play at.”