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The end of Super Rugby?

This article was written by John Murray. John is the immediate Past President of Easts Rugby Club and he was the co-founder of Club Rugby TV. He was responsible for the spectacular success of the 2017 GF at NSO (when we played in the 2nd grade GF). His day job was as a stockbroker..

The article is reproduced with permission

By John Murray

Super Rugby was created by Newscorp to sell pay TV subscriptions in an anti syphoning environment. It’s not a criticism of Newscorp, they helped Rugby turn professional in Australia and at the time (and for quite a few years following ) Super Rugby was a successful product, growing the game and ushering in the era of professional Rugby. Unfortunately it’s time has well and truly past, it is damaging our game and we must accept it’s not working despite the hard work and best intentions of everyone involved. There are no silver bullets for our current situation but abolishing Super Rugby and replacing it with a professional 18 Club competition would be a great start.

Think about this – if we replace 5 professional teams with 18, there are far more Rugby administrator positions created, 18 professional coaches means we can nurture and promote coaches internally, 18 professional rugby clubs means more men and women can stay in our game. Is there enough money to do this ? Lets look at the numbers which hopefully show why Clubs are better than sporting administrations at developing passion, pride and revenue.

The Sydney Swans had 361000 people attend their home games in 2022, RA had 265 000 people attend test matches and the Waratahs had 117 000 attend their home games in the same year – so the Swans came close to RA and the Waratahs attendances combined – they are just one Club.

In terms of revenue, The Swans generated Matchday and Membership Revenue of $12m – Waratahs $1.3m, Sponsorship and marketing for the Swans $15m – Waratahs $2.4m. I’m not highlighting these numbers by way of criticism, I’m highlighting them to show what can be done, what the potential is and why we should at least seriously consider a new option. Rugby has been a victim of paralysis – understandable as the situation deteriorates – but continuing on the same path is killing our game.

How would the finances work ? Rugby Australia give each Super Rugby Club around $6m ($30m in total) This is the biggest revenue item for each Super Club (followed by a Stadium rebate for the Waratahs of $3m which is why the game has to be played in empty caverns)

If we take that $30m and divide it amongst 18 Clubs, they receive around $1.5m each, lets say the clubs also successfully garner the sponsorship that currently sits in Super Rugby (call it $8m in total) roughly an additional .5m each (Easts Rugby generate sponsorship of around $600 000) and then add the gate – there is no way the gates wont improve but lets be cautious call it $250 000 per club per annum (remember this is the best Rugby available so the crowds will swell) Easts Rugby does around $100 000 in gate. You can see the numbers aren’t out of the question.

That would give each Rugby Club a starting position of $2.5m - $3m before they start to grow. The other advantage is you have 18 clubs hustling for marketing & sponsorship dollars as opposed to 5, growing the number approaches being made to businesses. Here is another fabulous advantage – the season can start when it’s supposed to start as opposed to the in the middle of summer which is ridiculous.

There is a contract with Stan Sport which needs to be renegotiated and the good folk at Stan Sport would no doubt be delighted if they could broadcast something that has meaning , passion and tribalism. They would most definitely be open to a conversation that allows them not to film empty stadiums with no atmosphere and games that don’t have a lot of meaning. Here is another great benefit – every weekend 9 Australian teams win!

How would we improve the playing skills of our players ? Imagine the pride and passion of a City V Country Origin game that was a genuine selection trial for NSW or QLD, imagine Sydney V Brisbane as part of that trial series. Imagine a genuine State of Origin competition that was a genuine trial for a Wallabies Jersey (is this a dream or could it really happen??) Consider this – Stan pay RA $27m annually to broadcast the whole shooting match, 7 offered the NRL $150m just for the State of Origin – 5 x our entire deal. Once again, I’m not being critical, I’m pointing out what can be done. Development Officers, they are generally great people but it’s a nonsense, no one registers their child at Moore Park or Daceyville – axe the development Officers and give the money and training to the Mudgee Wombats, Toowoomba Rangers, Nedlands, Box Hill Harlequins or the Roma Echidnas – who knows more people and what’s going on with Rugby in the local town, a nice kid from Rugby NSW in a Waratahs Polo or the coach of Cowra 1st Grade ? We have 850 Rugby Clubs in Australia – lets help them & recognise them for the great work they do developing our game.

The final point is this – I am here in France and the supporters are mostly rugby people who are involved or affiliated in some way with their local rugby club. There has been a massive divide in Australian Rugby between the professional game and the Clubs – its palpable here in France, the disillusionment of grass roots supporters as they feel detached from the professional game. Australians are fabulous at supporting each other in difficult times – we are not seeing that in Rugby currently and that is not because we are un Australian, the structure of the game has bought out the un Australian in us.

Having played a small part in helping Easts Rugby regain it’s financial health and enjoyed being the Shute Broadcast Rights holder with Nick Fordham when we helped sell out North Sydney Oval – I have experienced first hand how fantastic Rugby can be and the huge potential it has – Rugby at it’s best is the absolute best.

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