All sports fans know that modern day sport is all about money. All professional sports outfits know that obtaining sponsorship to support the sport or the team is becoming increasingly harder. Yet many administrators see expansion as a way to secure more money. More games gives sponsors more exposure, and means more airtime on television. So that in turn that must mean the broadcast contract goes up in value as the television station must be able to sell the sponsorship, as they have more opportunities for advertising breaks thanks to more games.
Sadly what many of those who think along these lines do not realise is fans want to see top quality sport. With the internet and competitions from around the world available on pay-TV, or even free to air television, the genuine sports fan knows what a good game is and what isn’t.
SANZAR have finally come to an agreement to once again revamp Super Rugby. It will expand yet again and will grow from 15 to 18 teams. Argentina will have a team, South Africa a sixth team and the last team will be accepted on a tender basis. Japan is favourite at this point in time, but it would be good to see the Island nations join the fray. Despite the expansion the number of games played by teams not making the finals will be exactly the same. So why the change?
Super Rugby is just about perfect at the moment with five teams in each country. All of the teams get to meet their fellow teams from their home nation on a home and away basis, and also have games against New Zealand and South African opposition. The only way the league could have been improved was if every team played each other at least once.
The new format from 2016 will see South Africa have a conference of 8 teams split into two pools of four. There will continue to be five teams in Australia and New Zealand, and all of the Australian teams will play all New Zealand teams each season; compared to playing four New Zealand teams per season in the current structure. All Australian teams will play all the teams in one pool of the two in South Africa.
The finals too will be expanded to include five teams from the Australasian Group and three from the South African Group.
CEO of the ARU, Bill Pulver has been understandably upbeat about the developments, “The international nature of Super Rugby makes it unique. It’s already one of the world’s most exciting provincial Rugby competitions, and with the changes announced today, it has the potential to become a truly global competition.” He said. “Our strong preference is for the 18th team to come from Asia as we believe this will attract significant commercial opportunities for us in the future.”
Then came the clincher, when Mr Pulver said the new competition structure is an appealing proposition for broadcasters, which has the potential to deliver significant positive outcomes and growth opportunities for Rugby in Australia. Let us wait and see on that one.
“Negotiating a significantly increased broadcast deal is the single greatest opportunity we have to increase revenue for Rugby in Australia, which will ensure we can deliver on our strategic priorities and grow the game by continuing to contribute to funding Super Rugby teams; retaining our best talent; new competitions; and by creating an overall better experience for our fan base, especially on game day.” Mr Pulver said, which implies that rugby is already spending money that it hopes will come in from this new format in order to finance the National Rugby Championship. What happens if that money does not come?
Mr Pulver was on a roll, “It’s crucial for the long-term success of the Qantas Wallabies that we’re playing the best opposition in the world on a regular basis, and this has been reinforced by the new model offering the Australasian Conference a guaranteed five of eight places in the Super Rugby Finals Series. With a broader pool of playing talent, more venues and extra match-ups, the new structure presents fantastic opportunities for our players and fans.”
It is not about quantity, its about quality. If the expansion diminishes the quality of the tournament, fans will drop off in numbers. Why have the public stopped watching the Wallabies in recent years? The answer is because against the best two teams in the World New Zealand and South Africa, they have not been able to match them. Its all about quality. Australia has to allow players who have gone overseas to still represent the Wallabies, the talent pool is not strong enough to do otherwise, if they don’t its going to be a very long wait before we see an Australian lift the World Cup again.
There is no doubt this is good news for budding young players, as more opportunities will arise, but what happens if New Zealand teams take most of the finals spots from the Australasian pool come finals time?
This may look good in a powerpoint presentation but one feels Australian rugby is walking a tightrope. If they manage to get to the other side then all well and good but fans should expect a few wobbles along the way. For the sake of the sport let us hope there is a safety net.
New Zealand and South Africa have traditional competitions which breed conveyor belts of talent, Australia does not, and that is why Australia needs Super Rugby. Australian teams must perform for this new format to be successful.