Since joining the Six Nations Championship in 2000, Italy have increasingly looked like a team who belong in the tournament. Now, on the eve of the 2013 competition, new Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) president Alfredo Gavazzi has high hopes for 2013.
This is your first full year as president of the Italian Rugby Federation. What do you hope to bring to the role?
I've been involved with Italian rugby for 40 years, covering many positions both inside and outside the country as a board member. Now I'm enthusiastic and I want to bring my experience to the whole Italian rugby community.
What are your targets - on and off the field - for this year's RBS 6 Nations?
November’s Tests underlined that Italy is growing both on and off the field. This team wants to attack, to play open rugby, to impose itself; it will be crucial to keep on this spirit. Off the field, with three home matches, we are focused on reaching an average crowd of 60,000 per game. It would be an important achievement in an uneasy economic moment for our country.
Last year, you recorded strong attendance figures at the Stadio Olimpico and the Azzuri will play their home games there again this year. Are you confident that you can fill the stadium in these three games and do you have longer-term ambitions to own your own stadium?
As I said, I think the main goal for the 2013 is to consolidate what we've previously achieved. To have 180,000 people attending three Italian home games was unbelievable only a few years ago. Today, it's a concrete target.
How well do you believe the federation's commercial programme is progressing?
Despite the unfavourable economic situation, Italy has a solid and developing balance. Rugby keeps on attracting major sponsors as the recent deal with a world-class brand such as Peugeot underlines.
"Despite the unfavourable economic situation, Italy has a solid and developing balance. Rugby keeps on attracting major sponsors."
Does the economic situation in Italy pose any threat to the commercial growth of rugby at this stage in its development?
The crisis is a reality and obviously has consequences, even on our world, but despite that we keep on developing. Certainly, it's a difficult moment for the clubs, most of all for the smallest of them.
Unlike in the other countries in the Six Nations, the live broadcast rights in Italy are held by a pay-TV broadcaster. Why was the decision taken to sell the rights to Sky Italia rather than a free-to-air channel?
First of all, we must remember rights are owned by the Six Nations and not by the FIR. It's clear to me how important free-to-air coverage of the national team is in order to promote the game to bigger crowds, but I want to underline the major effort and outstanding job Sky has made of covering the Six Nations from 2008 to present day. I also want people to remember that Italy's games will be available free-to-air, although not live, on national channel La7.
How important will the growth in club rugby - with Italian teams participating in European competition and the Rabo Direct Pro 12 - be to the growth of the sport in Italy?
It will be crucial: media and fans' attention is mostly focused on the national team, so one of my goals is to develop a consistent marketing plan to promote more and more Italian club rugby and to develop a positive, attractive environment for fans, media, and sponsors. The whole of Italian rugby, at any level, will benefit from that.
Alfredo Gavazzi features in the March 2013 edition of SportsPro as part of a comprehensive piece looking at the commercial progress of the Six Nations Championship. To order a copy of the magazine today, click here.