Anayi named Vodacom as “the best in the business” amongst rugby brands that excel in this arena.

It is high praise from an organisation that looked at the most successful fan engagement leagues in world sport such as the NFL, NBA and NHL in the United States, and the NRL in Australia as part of their research around how to transform rugby and ensure that the Vodacom United Rugby Championship lives up to its promise of being “proudly different”.

“What I absolutely love about the South African market is that rugby is so important there and comes with unbelievable backing from ginormous brands like Vodacom and a broadcaster like SuperSport," said Anayi.

"If you use any metric available, the Vodacom Bulls, Cell C Sharks, Emirates Lions and DHL Stormers really do match up to the biggest sports brands in the world bar none."

Looking specifically at Vodacom and their partnership in this ground-breaking first season of this new competition, Anayi says the company represents exactly the new consumer engagement model the VURC is striving for worldwide.

“Vodacom have become synonymous with rugby. It pushes us to innovate in a positive way and it’s always at the forefront of what we want to become, which is a consumer facing business. All rights holders around the world, and rugby is not alone in this, are becoming more public facing with a direct-to-consumer approach.

“Previously, we would have sold our media rights on a four- or five-year term and given our touch points over to a broadcaster. That is the branding play of old. Now with Vodacom and SuperSport, and our own direct-to-consumer streaming product URC.TV, we’re becoming a consumer facing business. So we’re learning from the likes of Vodacom on how to do that. And Vodacom are the best in the business at it.

“One thing I’ve learned over the last six to nine months is just how good Vodacom are at creating content that is value additive to our fan base. That sums up the best partnership. It’s not just a label that you put on. It’s actually within the fabric of the sport itself, and is very much within the fabric of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, and in rugby in South Africa in general.”

Anayi pointed to the Vodacom Bulls in particular and the symbiosis of their relationship with their sponsor as another model of success.

“You have a team of very professional people at the Vodacom Bulls, and a team of incredible expertise at Vodacom. There are innovative thinkers on both sides, and I believe the reason they work so well together is because they see eye-to-eye on what they want to achieve.”

According to Anayi, it all contributes to what he believes will be a highly successful VURC product with South Africa’s input: “The biggest plus for me is that we’ve now got those four very strong provincial unions playing in the right time zone.

"That’s a plus for broadcasts and the fans and games being played in prime time, as well as for player welfare when they travel and can still remain in touch with their families at reasonable hours. It’s why I’ve no doubt that the VURC will thrive in South Africa.”