Expansion in Super Rugby?
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The Southern Kings want in on Super Rugby, which would expand the South African conference from five teams to six.
Currently the New Zealand Rugby Union and the Australian Rugby Union are very much against the idea, they argue that there can be no expansion until the end of the next five year TV deal in 2016.
I believe there are models which can be invented, or copied from other organisations, or are even already in use e.g. the Rebels, which could allow expansion to happen before the 2016 dead line.
I believe that SANZAR should not only allow the Southern Kings into the competition but also allow Taranaki to be involved, along with another team to be created in Australia expanding the current competition from 15 to 18 teams.
Reasons for expansion
There are several reasons for expanding the Super Rugby competition, including building Argentinian rugby and keeping South Africa happy.
Argentina as of this year is joining the rugby championship. They have guaranteed the IRB and SANZAR that they will have their top players available for the competition. However, most of their players are still located in Europe and the European clubs are now going to start thinking twice about paying lots of money for Argentinian players who have to spend a considerable amount of time out of the early part of the European competition while they satisfy international duties.
Currently it is these clubs which have allowed the Argentinian players to be fully paid professionals which has kept Argentinian rugby strong, however if these players are kept out of the Euro-competitions and room within SANZAR’s 15 Super rugby competition can not be found, and its going to take time for Argentinas teams to form their own conference system.
Anyway if SANZAR are true to their word then this couldn’t happen before 2015 at the earliest. They have left a gaping hole which is going to have to be filled – the Rebels can’t take the entire Argentinian team and plus it would weaken Australian rugby if they did.
On the Rebels, I believe that they have done far more good for Australian Rugby then they have bad. I do not buy into the theory that less teams of condensed talent is better then more teams where some teams are weaker.
This is because not all the talent is defined or located from one or two sources and talent is not always identified by the same individuals. I believe that the more teams you have the more cracks you can cover and the less talent which can slip through those gaps before being identified and moved onto higher honours.
The Rebels do not need to be competitive and beat the Crusaders, Reds and Stormers week in and week out. Its my belief that if they cause a few upsets like their games against the Crusaders and uncover players who could make it into the Wallabies, they have served their true purpose.
Their job is to assist Australian rugby with growth and slow the drainage of top players to other codes. From this perspective they are doing a great job.
Aside from this, they also have done pretty good with their attendance figures as well.
Considering the success of the Rebels in achieving these aims, its time now for the Australian Rugby Union to consider another round of expansion in another state. Currently we have Queensland, NSW, VIC and WA.
Perhaps teams in SA or Tasmania should be considered? Or as some Roarers believe, another team in New South Wales or Queensland. Either way expansion can only continue to strengthen Australian Rugby with their core role of identifying and promoting talent into the top team
Taranaki want in Super Rugby almost as much as the Kings do, the only difference is the SARU is supporting its existing franchise. The New Zealand Rugby Union is leaving one of its iconic provinces out in the cold.
The New Zealand Rugby Union have ignored their requests for entry into the competition for far to long, as they believe it will destroy the ITM Cup. Well, sorry to break it to you, but Super Rugby has already broken the back of the ITM Cup.
Super Rugby’s conference format has to be the main priority and it its time for the New Zealand Rugby Union to allow more provinces to buy their way into Super Rugby.
Then, there’s TV ratings. I’ve been tracking the TV ratings across Sky and Fox and from my view this is one of the best reasons for expansion of the competition. We must include another three teams, meaning more home derbies. This has been the catch cry of SANZAR since the Rebels joined and the conference system was created.
In 2010, after 14 rounds of Super Rugby played on Australian TVs, the combined figure coming from Fox was 3,550,000. Under the conference format the ratings have passed 3,500,000 in 10 rounds with the Australian V Australian team ratings normally out doing the Aus V New Zealand and New Zealand V New Zealand games.
This is how its meant to work and it works very very well. If you add another team from the Australian conference, you will see the competition grow a little bit more in Australia and thus have the further advantage of allowing more talent to be identified along with more local games and higher TV ratings
The case for a new team in New Zealand is pretty obvious. Another team will assist Sky in further expanding their reach into the New Zealand population. Believe it or not, there are some New Zealanders still holding out on getting Sky because of the Super Rugby format and how it does not fully represent their province.
New Zealanders are very loyal about their provinces and will support the inclusion of the Naki. I believe it will build their market share to 85 percent.
As for South Africa, I always feel like the Saffas get the short end of the stick. They provide the best attendance figures and the best TV ratings. Adding two Super games a week by adding a additional team will grow their TV ratings substantially.
To put it into perspective, from my understanding SA TV ratings are at about the same level as NZ/Aus combined.
The current total of the combined TV ratings across Aus/NZ is 11,081,247 is up to the end of round 11. With only the top rating programs making the score each week, South Africa is reaching about the same with only two viewing games a week in their time zone. If anything, the Kings should be added purely to give our South African friends more TV room in their time zone, because they are the ones who are truly sacrificing for the success of Super Rugby.
They provide the bulk of the cash, viewing numbers and game attendance ratings. They have done their part and carried the bulk of weight of Southern Hemisphere rugby. Without them our rugby talent would have been taken by rugby league and the European clubs, because New Zealand is too small to stand on its own and rugby in Australia is too weak to go through the A-League style of rebuild / collapse / rebuild.
I’m not saying we should just give in to the South Africans every time they throw a tantrum but we should consider all the facts before decisions are made.
I believe there is plenty of room for and arguments in the positive to justify expansion
The biggest issue of course is money. Grand ideas are great but unless the capital is available to make them workable, then they are nothing but grand ideas.
How can SANZAR resolve the issue of cash flow? The obvious answer is to use the Melbourne Rebels as their primary model. I know that both the Kings and Naki are leaning towards this line for their funding so once again it surprises me that the New Zealand Rugby Union is rejecting the idea, while the SARU is doing everything it can to get the Kings in the door. The idea in itself is workable and can be used to expand in all three countries at the same time.
Australia has more problems with both funding and a player shortage. I believe the player shortage can be resolved by allowing more players from South America into the competition, which goes a long way to resolving the Argentinian problem and helping Australia’s issues.
Also they can source players from New Zealand as required to fill gaps in their own player shortage if players from Argentina are not available, or not good enough to fill the gap.
The final issue with expansion is the length of the season and the problems caused, but this is a no brainer. There will be less crossover rounds and more home games. The number of weeks does not need to increase.
SANZAR has many issues to face over the next five years starting with not having enough places in the competition to accommodate the arriving Argentinian cohort and reconciling the demands from South African Rugby. However I believe the issues can be solved by following the process above.
Expansion at this point to an 18 team competition can only be good for the game. SANZAR are being far too conservative in their reach even though they have grand ideas about the USA and Japan.
It is my opinion that Japan and the USA are not going to be interested unless they also are able to be involved in the Rugby Championship, which means they will also want a equal share of the profits.
If we expand to six teams per conference we are building a competition to rival those in Europe.
We currently have a window to advance our sport. The question is will SANZAR move before the window closes.
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