The Jerusalem Post
A new dawn for Israeli rugby as Tel Aviv Heat joins Rugby Europe Super Cup
It was a balmy spring day in Israel’s capital as the Fijian national team stormed past the mighty New Zealanders to win the first Jerusalem International Rugby Sevens Tournament in 1998. This event was set to secure Jerusalem’s place as one of the founding members of the annual International Grand Prix of Rugby Sevens.
Entering the fold as one of the Grand Prix nations comprising this top-level international sporting event (the brain-child of tournament managing-director Adi Raz, then a 26-year-old Hebrew University student taking his first steps into the business world), Israeli sport was expected to receive a major boost. Then came the second intifada, and Jerusalem lost its place on the annual roster.
Fast forward 23 years, and a new initiative to boost rugby in Israel was signed earlier this month. Tel Aviv Heat, the country’s first professional rugby team, was launched and became a founding member of the new Rugby Europe Super Cup.
Once again, Tel Aviv Heat Chairman Raz, now a Tel Aviv businessman, is active front and center. While the Israel Rugby Union owns the majority ownership stake in Tel Aviv Heat, Raz is involved in Pro Rugby Partners Ltd., which holds the remaining equity in the team and leads and manages its budget, marketing, partnerships, operations, and human resources.
“Tel Aviv Heat is committed to building a club that will elevate Israel rugby to the highest level,” Raz told The Jerusalem Post, adding, “We are now at the stage of finalizing our marketing strategy that will boost our rugby outreach capability.”
Raz, the son of an Israeli diplomat, was infected by the rugby virus while growing up in rugby-rabid Fiji. He later played for the Hebrew University rugby team together with this reporter.
The Heat team roster will include the most talented players eligible to play for the Israel national rugby team together with professional club rugby players from Europe, South Africa, the United States, and Oceania. Tel Aviv Heat will play its home matches in one of Israel’s top stadiums.
Heat announced that Kevin Musikanth would serve as the team’s first Director of Rugby and Head Coach for the inaugural season of the Europe Super Cup. Currently the Israel national rugby team head coach and formerly head coach of top South African clubs, Musikanth is committed to upgrading rugby in Israel.
The head of World Rugby, Sir Bill Beaumont, enthusiastically welcomed the European initiative.
“World Rugby’s strategic mission is to make rugby a global sport for all. The Rugby Europe Super Cup is an exciting growth opportunity across Europe where rugby appetite and potential is significant. Importantly, this competition will bridge the gap between domestic and international competition for the nations involved, reflecting our ambition to increase the overall competitiveness of the international game.”
“The selection of Tel Aviv Heat to compete in the inaugural season of the Rugby Europe Super Cup marks a watershed moment in Israeli team sports, elevating Israeli athletes to compete on a regular basis with worldclass players who have represented their countries in Rugby World Cups,” said Shahar Bartal, Tel Aviv Heat’s Chief Marketing Officer, in a press release.
The Rugby Europe Super Cup is the first annual European club competition involving non-Six Nations rugby countries and creates a high-performance pathway for the rapid development of European rugby talent.
In season 1, the Super Cup will feature eight leading teams divided into two conferences for the initial round robin stage – the Eastern Conference consisting of the Black Lions (Georgia), Tel Aviv Heat (Israel), Enisei-STM (Russia) and Lokomotiv-Penza (Russia); and the Western Conference consisting of the Brussels Devils (Belgium); Delta (Netherlands); Lusitanos (Portugal) and Castilla y Leon Iberians (Spain).
The plan is to expand the Super Cup to include 12 teams by 2023 and 16 teams by 2025.
Each Super Cup team will play home and away-fixtures in six rounds of action played between September and December, 2021. At the end of the pool stage, the top two teams in each group will qualify for the semifinals, which will be played during April 2022, with the pool winners hosting the ties. The final will take place in May 2022 to crown the inaugural winner of the Rugby Europe Super Cup.
Rugby Europe is in the process of finalizing media and commercial sponsorship rights for the Super Cup and will provide revenue incentivization for participating teams based on performance and marketing criteria. To date, strategic investments from committed supporters of rugby based in Israel and abroad are proving instrumental in building a passionate fan base throughout Israel and around the world.
In addition to traditional revenue streams built around attendance, advertising, broadcast rights, and merchandising, Tel Aviv Heat will harness the entrepreneurial spirit of “startup nation” by collaborating with Israeli cutting-edge sports tech and food tech companies to help close the gap in relation to bigger and richer rugby-playing nations. Any such tech innovations will gain exposure to the wider global sporting industry.