Chủ Nhật, 27 tháng 7, 2014

Super doubtful about the future of rugby

Roar Guru

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The previous provincial comp unearthed Kurtley Beale, but put the ARU in financial turmoil from which it has yet to recover. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

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Over the next two years, Australia’s rugby landscape will go through its biggest transformation since the establishment of the Super 12 competition 18 years ago.

The inaugural NRC season is set to kickoff in August and SANZAR is giving Super Rugby its most significant makeover.

Three new teams will be distributed over a conference structure that requires a strong knowledge in advanced algorithms to wrap your head around.

In its boldest expansion to date, Super Rugby in 2016 will include teams from two new markets, with clubs to be established in Argentina and either Japan or Singapore.

Bill Pulver has been the ARU’s man at the reins during a whirlwind 18-month tenure that has seen him reintroduce a third tier concept and thrash out a new direction for Super Rugby with his Kiwi and South African counterparts. His attention in recent months has now turned to selling these developments to Australia’s sporting public.

The NRC is going to provide Australian rugby with what we’re told is a much needed stepping stone between club rugby and Super Rugby.

I have my doubts as to how a two-month competition can have any serious impact on our playing depth, especially considering the most recent Super Rugby season suggests we’re not all that far behind our SANZAR partners when it comes to providing adequate talent to fill five professional rugby teams.

I also have my concerns that this competition could prove to be yet another costly expedition into the bottomless pit that is a national third tier, which is something the ARU can ill-afford. Nonetheless, I’ll take Mr Pulver’s word that this new model can be self-sufficient and it will get my full support.

But we can’t pretend that this concept can be anything more than a platform to give fringe and up-and-coming Super Rugby players a bit of a splash around in the shallow end.

There are many other important objectives on the ARU’s table that require attention and resources and the NRC won’t satisfy them. Furthermore, the moment it becomes apparent that the competition will run with the burden of consistent losses, the plug needs to be pulled.

Since SANZAR released its desired 18-team model in May, reactions have been mixed. Many fans were left scratching their heads wondering how this proposal is going to drive the game forward in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Pulver believes the expanded structure will improve the competition while boosting the all-important broadcast revenue. While I think there’s every chance the TV pie will increase, I fail to see how these changes will improve Super Rugby, let alone make it more engaging for fans.

During one of his Q and A sessions with The Roar earlier this year, Pulver mentioned that not being able to truly re-engage fans was the biggest risk for rugby in Australia. I wholeheartedly agree with him but with this in mind I can’t fathom how he’s advocating this new Super Rugby structure.

The concept of not only maintaining, but building the game’s presence across the three SANZAR markets needed to be the focal point while deciding on the immanent evolution of Super Rugby. I can’t help but feel that what we were presented with in early May doesn’t effectively achieve this.

The rugby world is going through a period of unprecedented growth on many fronts and SANZAR requires a direction that ensures the relevance of tier two rugby on the world stage. This is particularly important within the Australian market, where three football codes continue to surge ahead with enormous television deals and impressive levels of exposure that suggest rugby occupies nothing more than a niche position in our sporting landscape.

While SANZAR now debates the merits of which Asian frontier to conquer, I’m still wondering how a team in Japan, Singapore or Timbuctoo is going to increase the game’s standing domestically and make an impression on the ARU’s coffers that currently depend on a Lions tour every 12 years.

I understand the SANZAR negotiating table can resemble the footpath outside James Packer’s Bondi digs, with all parties having some firm ideas and set criteria to work around. Even with these contrasting beliefs, I fail to see how what the three parties agreed upon is beneficial to any of their individual interests, especially in the long run.

After two and a half months spent in utter disbelief at a thoughtless model, and yet another missed opportunity for SANZAR, I’ve put together what I believe to be a superior proposal. In doing that, I’ve tried to keep in mind the parametres and some of the goals of negotiating for 2016 and beyond.

New Zealand wants to maintain a relationship with South Africa

The New Zealand Rugby Union believe they produce a higher calibre of player when they are exposed to South African teams and away games in the Republic.

South Africa want six

In 2014, the Kings from Port Elizabeth sat out the Super Rugby season after doing what was looking like becoming an annual tag-in, tag-out scenario with the Lions. The SARU didn’t want to have to rotate teams in and out to accommodate the six areas that they (and their government) believe should be represented in Super Rugby.

An emphasis on derbies

This objective was driven particularly hard by the ARU as local or derby games prove to be a ratings winner and crowd figures suggest they’re fan favourites.

Taking Super Rugby to new frontiers

The Pumas now have a place in the Rugby Championship and there have long been calls for Argentina to be involved in Super Rugby. This will be realised in 2016. SANZAR also seem to be of the mindset that there’s a pot of gold waiting for them in Asia, so any changes to Super Rugby also seemed to inevitably involve Japan and one of the Tiger economies.

The travel

The ARU and SARU were quite vocal about expansion not leading to an increase in the travel demands on players and even expressed a desire to cut back if possible. RUPA also chimed in and directly voiced player concerns.

Protecting the third tier in New Zealand and South Africa

Both the New Zealand Rugby Union and the SARU have always required a window for the ITM and Currie Cups to run.

Mo Money

Obviously the jury will be out on this until SANZAR sit down with broadcasters to throw around some figures, but creating a structure that’s conducive to the needs of TV would no doubt be a strong influencer to ensure the three partners receive a bigger piece of pie moving forward. This is even more important as the wages above the equator are becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with.

Growing the game

Continuing (or kick-starting) the growth of the game is, without doubt, the most important factor in the decision making process, and the second tier underneath Test rugby plays a pivotal role in achieving this.

All three partners are locked in an ongoing battle in chasing hearts and minds within their respective publics to get bums on seats and kids at sign-on days. Considering the significantly weaker position rugby holds in Australia when compared to New Zealand and South Africa, this objective is incredibly important in our backyard.

While I concede that SANZAR have gone some way to satisfying most of these criterions, I think many fans would agree that what’s resulted is some sort of Frankenstein monster that has the potential to do more harm than good.

The package seems to be well off the mark of what was required and I really don’t see it being the vehicle Australian rugby desperately needs to pick up new fans. Not only that, I think the new Super Rugby runs the real risk of turning off current fans that the game just as desperately needs to hold onto.

Over the last 12 or so months I’ve heard a lot of interesting proposals on The Roar from people like myself who live and breathe rugby and want nothing but the best for the sport. In my next article, I’d like to share my ideas and demonstrate how they fit into the negotiating criteria.

Until then, how do you feel SANZAR have gone fitting their model into these parameters, and do you think what we’re left with is what we (Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) need?

Super doubtful about the future of rugby

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