Marco Masotti interview: Rugby needs global super league to entice US investment

Global powerbroker: Marco Masotti is the owner of South African team Sharks and has a stake in Saracens (Cell C Sharks)
Global powerbroker: Marco Masotti is the owner of South African team Sharks and has a stake in Saracens (Cell C Sharks)

Global powerbroker Marco Masotti believes rugby needs a world club super league to convince major US investors to transform the future of the sport.

Sharks controlling owner and New York private equity specialist Masotti has jetted in to London to watch his Durban side take on Harlequins in tomorrow’s Champions Cup clash at The Stoop. The South African lawyer represented new Chelsea co-owner Behdad Eghbali in the sale of the Premier League club last year, and boasts a US success story that includes links to John F Kennedy and Nelson Mandela.

With a stake in Saracens and 30 years at prestigious US firm Paul Weiss, Masotti boasts a formidable, intimidating day job, but is engaging, insightful and funny in a 30-minute Zoom call from his Manhattan office. Steering the Sharks and aiding Saracens’ ownership represents Masotti’s “downtime” from corporate law, but the sporting administrator is anything but relaxed about rugby’s future.

“The game needs a Super League,” Masotti tells Standard Sport. “Maybe the Champions Cup becomes that, but rugby needs a competition where all the best teams in the world play each other in a global calendar.

“That’s what we’re striving for, and absolutely it would work. The international game seems to be going well, but we’ve got to get the club game to the next level of professional development.”

The Sharks are in London to face Harlequins in the Champions Cup this weekend (Roc Nation Sports International)
The Sharks are in London to face Harlequins in the Champions Cup this weekend (Roc Nation Sports International)

NBA basketball team Milwaukee Bucks owner Marc Lasry and Florida Panthers NHL ice hockey team chief Doug Cifu invested in the Sharks’ US consortium takeover in 2021. Saracens co-owner Dominic Silvester, Cranemere LLC boss Vincent Mai and Michael Yormark, the president of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports, also hold stakes.

Rugby’s chastening 2022 that saw Worcester and Wasps go to the wall has the game’s bosses acutely aware that new investment is the only route to a fruitful and sustainable future. Masotti confirmed that he will help Premiership Rugby seek US funds as the English game looks to bolster financial resources — but he insists only a move of a super league’s magnitude can coax the biggest investors to go all-in.

Asked if a super league would tip the balance in US investment, Masotti replies: “Oh, absolutely. There’s interest in North America, there’s interest in the Middle East.

“If the rugby community is smart, we’ll be a massive sport — as many as 600 million fans around the world is basically the size of baseball. There’s so many people interested in live sports and interested in content in North America.

I’ve spoken to a lot of people involved in sports, and they keep looking for an opportunity in rugby. They’re not quite there yet, but it’s coming

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people involved in sports, and they keep looking for an opportunity in rugby. They’re not quite there yet, but it’s coming.”

Masotti and Saracens boss Silvester will host 20 of rugby’s major operators at dinner in London tonight, Springboks World Cup winner Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira included.

South Africa’s 2019 World Cup-winning skipper Siya Kolisi joined the Sharks off the back of Masotti’s takeover, and advises the board.

“Siya cares about our business, and he’s one of the people I turn to for advice,” says Masotti. “He’s got a heart of gold, he cares enormously about his role, which is very important and is going to be increasingly important in South Africa.

“I never intended to emigrate, I came on a US government scholarship and stayed. My firm is a very special place; almost as soon as I arrived, I started working with John F Kennedy’s speech writer Ted Sorensen.

“President Nelson Mandela came to New York, visited Paul Weiss and asked Ted to set up the South Africa Free Elections Fund. Through that I met Vincent Mai and over time my links to sport and rugby have just grown.”