Posted on Thursday 17 January 2013 by Ulster Business

Shane Logan

The CEO of Ulster Rugby says that current success for the professional team is just one strand of a long term plan to make Ulster a world class rugby region both on and off the field.

Shane Logan is a rugby man through and through.

As CEO of Ulster Rugby he has responsibility for the game at all levels in the province, from grassroots right up to the professional team currently flying high in the RaboDirect PRO 12 and Heineken Cup.

While he watches all home games and travels regularly with the elite squad, you're just as likely to find him attending junior and schools rugby games on the weekend, and there's no sense that he sees the latter as a chore.

He explains that the development of the game from mini-rugby upwards is part of the long term strategy to increase participation in rugby and improve the standard of players coming through.

"For the professional game to succeed is an enormous team effort. We have to produce production lines of the best players and coaches and that starts at primary school. Unless we have enough people in primary school and up through the system who are enthused about rugby and excellently coached, we don't have a high performing senior Ulster team," he said.

Logan has a wealth of commercial experience gained a wide range of industry sectors. His first senior position was as General Manager of Harland and Wolff shipbuilders, which was followed by his appointment as the Head of Coca-Cola for Central Russia and a spell as chief executive of the Royal National Institute of the Blind.

He has had a lifelong interest in rugby, having coached in his hometown club of Bangor and played for clubs in three different continents.

Logan joined Ulster Rugby in early 2010 and immediately set out ambitious goals of making Ulster a force in world rugby.

Despite two strong seasons over the previous decade – which included the famous European Cup win in 1999 and a league win in 2006 – the team had failed to perform consistently.

"When I came in we drew our first game and lost the next five. Then I had to put up season ticket prices by between 30% and 40% to make us competitive and allow us to field the strength of team we needed. The first priority was to get the team performing and then to look at how we did things commercially," he said.

Part of Ulster Rugby's plan is the £14.7m redevelopment of the Ravenhill Rugby Grounds, which got underway at the end of last year and will be completed by the summer of 2014. The new stands will see capacity rise from just over 11,000 to 18,000, making it capable of hosting a RaboDirect PRO12 final or a Heineken Cup quarter final.

"In the long term we want to be world class. We're maybe a bit ahead of where we thought we would be on most fronts, the stadium included, but compared to where we need to be strategically we're still short," said Logan.

"The professional team has now moved from 20th in Europe to eighth, so it still has a way to go but is improving. The clubs and schools game is growing, maybe not as quickly as we'd like, but it is growing. And the commercial revenues are encouraging. Our sponsorships are all up, we're starting to sell out our games – this year probably half."

The new stadium gives Ulster the potential to double its revenues from ticket sales, sponsorship and spend per head, while it is also in discussions with potential sponsors over a lucrative long term naming rights deal for the ground. But the CEO notes that, like any other business, the product has to be right before people will pay for it.

"If our product isn't excellent, people won't want to watch it or sponsor it. So my biggest job is to ensure the professional team performs and performs in the long term," he said. "Too many people focus on the money first. The money will follow an excellent product."

That said, Ravenhill has already become a hub for business people, with 20 boxes, 400 premium seats on long term deals and its own business club for sponsors. Demand is already outstripping supply, something the new stadium will address.

"We want Ravenhill to be a place where decision makers in the private and public sector will be able to come to relax, to bring visitors, and to have a cracking experience that promotes business. We think that over half the top 100 companies in Northern Ireland are represented here in attendance and we want to try to grow that," said Logan.

All this expected commercial success will allow Ulster Rugby to invest in growing the game at all levels.

"Ulster is nine counties with a population of roughly two million people and we want spread rugby right across Ulster so it is a really strong rugby region. We want to work on the principle of one rugby pyramid where the clubs, schools and professional team are all working together as one. Having a top quality stadium people will want to come to, where people can come to watch the players train and meet them as part of school, is a key part of that," said Logan.

The CEO estimates it could take "10 or 15 years" for Ulster to get where it wants to be in terms of that pool of players coming through to the high performance level.

Among the other rugby regions he thinks are "doing a lot right" he lists rivals Leinster and Munster, Leicester and Northampton in England, and several French clubs. What drives Logan to make Ulster better than them is his passion for the game.

"This isn't a job or a business, this is a cause. I believe that rugby has the ability to bring a lot of good, to give people great entertainment, to inspire and bring the best out of players. It has values I believe in. There is a place for everybody in the game from all abilities, all sexes, all backgrounds. There is respect for the opposition, respect for the referee, respect for the rules," he said. "What drives me is the cause of rugby, I think it can do a lot of good."

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