How about an Australian Super Rugby joint venture?

Will Knight Columnist

By Will Knight, Will Knight is a Roar Expert

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    With SANZAAR set to meet over the next couple of days in London to thrash out a restructure of the Super Rugby competition, let’s consider the hypothesis that there will be one less Australian franchise.

    It’s worth contemplating because it’s entirely likely.

    Feedback from fans says the 18-team, four-conference system is confusing and constipated – making it hard for administrators and broadcasters to deliver.

    It’s pretty clear that five teams in Australia is unsustainable considering the financially precarious position of the majority of the clubs. Recent results on the field haven’t been up to scratch either.

    If we tackle this task by deduction, let’s immediately rule out two teams: the Waratahs and Reds are shoo-ins to be retained – the two states are the lifeblood of Australian rugby. No further discussion needed.

    The third candidate I’d eliminate is the Western Force.

    They’ve been dismal at times on the field, failing to make the Super Rugby finals in their 11-year existence, and perhaps because of that they’ve struggled to stay on their own two feet financially.

    However, any broadcast executive and sports marketing expert will tell you their location fits the television schedule nicely, with their Perth home games providing a perfect slot for TV audiences in South Africa and Europe.

    Remember, the decisions made in London will be largely motivated by getting the broadcast deal right; that’s where the big bucks are that lay the base for Super Rugby’s viability and in turn provide the biggest drawcard to stop the player drain to Europe and Japan.

    Perth is a city of 1.8 million and the Force’s battle with two AFL teams for the hearts and minds of sports fans is formidable but not overwhelming.

    Kyle Godwin Western Force Rugby Union 2016

    Which leaves the Brumbies in Canberra and the Melbourne Rebels.

    My proposition is for the ARU not to sharpen the knives to give one of them the chop, but instead get out the welding torch.

    Why not a Super Rugby joint venture?

    Should we act in the spirit of Federation, when Canberra was chosen as Australia’s capital as a geographical compromise roughly halfway between Sydney and Melbourne?

    I make Albury the halfway point between Canberra and Melbourne. The Albury Steamers Rugby Club seem to be well established and they call their home ground Murrayfield.

    Alright that’s not going to work; let’s move on.

    I’d suggest Canberra being the dominant partner in the new joint venture, with three of their eight home games to be played in Melbourne.

    Canberra’s upside is that it’s a proven rugby-loving city with a population of 395,000. That’s significantly more than the successful New Zealand franchises of the Highlanders, based in Dunedin, and the Chiefs based in Hamilton. The key difference is those Kiwi teams effectively have a free hit with fans, while the Brumbies face stiff competition with the Canberra Raiders in the NRL.

    Nonetheless, Canberra has proven when the Brumbies are going well they can fill the 25,000 capacity of GIO Stadium.

    Canberra have bolted-on rugby union fans and that makes them a precious commodity. South Sydney’s eviction from the NRL in 2000 and 2001 proved it’s highly fraught to alienate diehard fans, or you run the risk that they’ll be lost to the game. The ARU wouldn’t be keen to rip the Brumbies out of Canberra, despite their financial strains of recent years.

    Twice champions and four-times runners-up, the Brumbies also have an enviable Super Rugby record, and the ACT has produced a steady flow of classy Wallabies such as current Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham, 139-Test George Gregan, Joe Roff and Matt Giteau.

    The downside of Canberra is that the money men don’t view them as lucrative enough to advertisers and broadcasters. Melbourne’s population of 4.35 million is the reason those same parties are so keen for rugby to make a dent in the Victorian market.

    The reasons for potentially not persisting with the Rebels as a sole entity in Melbourne are well known – the AFL-infatuated city with eight teams has had six seasons to prove they’re worth sticking with, and haven’t delivered.

    And the Storm have shown that NRL premierships don’t necessarily translate into adoration from Melburnians. The Mexicans are tough nuts to crack.

    Would a three-match stadium deal in Melbourne be worthwhile? Surely the ARU wouldn’t want to let go of any foothold they’ve laid down in Melbourne; they’ve got an academy established and a decent following. Maybe those fans’ interest would fade if the Rebels didn’t remain full-time.

    Are joint ventures too poisonous? Or can it work as a compromise and worth the punt?

    Will Knight
    Will Knight

    An AAP writer for more than a decade, Will Knight does his best to make sense of all things cricket, rugby union and rugby league, all while trying to have a laugh along the way. You can find him on Twitter @WKnightrider.

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    The Crowd Says (132)

    • March 10th 2017 @ 4:23am
      AndyS said | March 10th 2017 @ 4:23am | ! Report

      For every proposal put forward, perhaps the first filter should be to imagine it was your team being talked about and be honest about how you would react as a supporter…

      • March 10th 2017 @ 8:04am
        Paul said | March 10th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

        It’s simple really. Any team axed will see its supporters lost to Rugby. Nobody is going to follow another team located somewhere else.

    • March 10th 2017 @ 4:44am
      mania said | March 10th 2017 @ 4:44am | ! Report

      wow really tough question. commercially you’d have to go with force or rebels
      however for the good of rugby and to keep the quality high u gotta go with Canberra
      what a weird situation it is that your thinking of getting rid of your most successful franchise for one of your least. i find the irony tragic.

      • March 10th 2017 @ 11:21am
        Paul said | March 10th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

        13 years since their last trophy…The Horses are struggling bigtime…

    • March 10th 2017 @ 5:00am
      Bman said | March 10th 2017 @ 5:00am | ! Report

      Cut The Tahs… no one shoes up to their games and that baby blue kit is horrible.

      • March 10th 2017 @ 9:29am
        Jim said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        Do they all wear thongs to the games?

      • March 10th 2017 @ 2:20pm
        Christo the Daddyo said | March 10th 2017 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

        Yes, let’s axe a team because someone doesn’t like the colour of their jersey. That sounds like an excellent idea…

    • March 10th 2017 @ 5:15am
      Darwin Stubbie said | March 10th 2017 @ 5:15am | ! Report

      At least someone is finally talking about the real issues …. it’s all to do with revenue and the competition – Aust rugby need to fit in around that and then build the base from there – this is a very good solution to the potential cull

      • Roar Guru

        March 10th 2017 @ 9:05am
        sheek said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:05am | ! Report

        And I suppose the same people who twaddle on about revenue are the same ones bemoaning stay-at-home mums are an under used resource dragging on the economy.

        Despite the fact the best way to bring up a kid is to have a stay-at-home parent.

        Dumb country becoming dumber.

        At the turn of the century/millenium we were a progressive thinking country.

        In just less than two decades the leftie/greenie goons are dictating the mindset, sending us to the cellar (without any wine either).

        • March 10th 2017 @ 10:01am
          Council said | March 10th 2017 @ 10:01am | ! Report

          Where on earth does this come from?

          You really need to get rid of this bitterness to anythin modern you seem to have.

          You come across as a bitter, bigoted old man with a serious case of Everything Was Better In My Day.

          • Roar Guru

            March 10th 2017 @ 10:14am
            sheek said | March 10th 2017 @ 10:14am | ! Report

            Love you too council.

          • March 10th 2017 @ 10:17am
            TH McProp said | March 10th 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

            YM1 But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.

            YM2: Aye. BECAUSE we were poor. My old Dad used to say to me, ‘Money doesn’t buy you happiness.’

            — SIGH, I remember when I started playing, a try was three points … and being fat got me a game, rather than kept me out of it. But it was an amateur game at all levels.
            Today’s professional players are bigger, fitter, faster etc.
            But VFL/AFL and NSWRL/ARL/NRL have had over a century of developing a professional game essentially based on local clubs. Until the professional era rugby could really only get people to pay admission at the ground to watch it was for Test matches and State XVs playing touring international sides.
            But I digress.

        • March 10th 2017 @ 10:56am
          Mac said | March 10th 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

          Agreed.

        • March 10th 2017 @ 2:22pm
          Christo the Daddyo said | March 10th 2017 @ 2:22pm | ! Report

          Don’t let facts get in the way of your ‘old man shouting at clouds’ routine sheek.

          Hilariously bizarre rant – almost David Lord level.

        • Roar Guru

          March 10th 2017 @ 2:25pm
          Train Without A Station said | March 10th 2017 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

          Name one successful code with a successful professional competition that doesn’t consider revenues?

          As long as you compete with codes that do, you have to or become amateur.

          • March 10th 2017 @ 5:49pm
            Bring Back...? said | March 10th 2017 @ 5:49pm | ! Report

            Add to that – an analogous competition run across so many time zones? Super rugby has done well to “survive” this long, but its time has come. Sth Africa are better off linking up with the north whilst a Pacific tournament is possible for Aust, NZ and Japan – where there is lots of $$$$.

          • Roar Guru

            March 11th 2017 @ 4:06pm
            sheek said | March 11th 2017 @ 4:06pm | ! Report

            TWAS,

            It is wrong to think I don’t consider revenue important. Of course it is.

            However, it is not the only measure by which you can judge success or improvement of a code.

            It would be helpful I think, if rugby balanced revenue with some long-term sustainable plans & structures.

            At present the perception is that everything revolves around the five year broadcasting cycle.

            This is not healthy.

        • March 11th 2017 @ 4:45am
          Darwin Stubbie said | March 11th 2017 @ 4:45am | ! Report

          Wow

    • Roar Guru

      March 10th 2017 @ 5:32am
      Machpants said | March 10th 2017 @ 5:32am | ! Report

      Constipated? Mexicans? Is this a article an allusion to trump?

    • March 10th 2017 @ 5:46am
      Blue Horned Mike said | March 10th 2017 @ 5:46am | ! Report

      Well, we had a joint venture before with the Cats who played their games in Bloemfontein and Johannesburg.

      • March 10th 2017 @ 6:38am
        Bakkies said | March 10th 2017 @ 6:38am | ! Report

        and that went down like a lead balloon with the players and supporters from both rival teams

        • March 10th 2017 @ 8:21am
          Hugo au Gogo said | March 10th 2017 @ 8:21am | ! Report

          Neither the Rebels nor the Brumbies have the long history that builds rivalries and tension between neighbours (while acknowledging the short history of the Brumbies in Super Rugby is a proud and successful one).

          • March 10th 2017 @ 8:33am
            Bakkies said | March 10th 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

            ‘that builds rivalries and tension between neighbours (while acknowledging the short history of the Brumbies in Super Rugby is a proud and successful one).’

            Ever been to a Tarts v Brumbies match?

            • March 10th 2017 @ 12:54pm
              Hugo au Gogo said | March 10th 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

              Given the 100+ year history of the Waratahs, and the 20 year history of friction between they and the Brumbies, (as the unloved little brothers as positioned by the Brumbies at their birth) a merger would likely have the same result you alluded to with the Cats. That is not a factor between Rebels and Brumbies. Perhaps they could ask Stirling to host the first bonding session…

          • Roar Guru

            March 10th 2017 @ 8:35am
            Fionn said | March 10th 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

            Nobody hates the Brumbies and nobody hates the Rebels. I think that, earlier, NSW and QLD fans were jealous of the Brumbies’ success, but since they’ve both won the premiership much more recently than the Brumbies that has dissipated, and, I think, people largely look at the Brumbies fondly.

            I think that there would, initially, be a lot of horror in Canberra if our team was linked with Melbourne given how far it is. That being said, I think people would come to terms with it, and they wouldn’t be angry at the Melbourne fans, more simply horrified with the ARU. I think it might work.

            That said, it still gives the same upside of cutting a team (concentrating players in 4 teams) and the same downside (loss of 30 professional playing contracts to Australian players).

            • March 10th 2017 @ 8:59am
              Bakkies said | March 10th 2017 @ 8:59am | ! Report

              ‘That being said, I think people would come to terms with it, and they wouldn’t be angry at the Melbourne fans, more simply horrified with the ARU. I think it might work.’

              I just can’t see it working logistically and the Canberra clubs will never vote for it as that is required within the ACT & SRU to approve such a venture.

              • Roar Guru

                March 10th 2017 @ 9:26am
                Fionn said | March 10th 2017 @ 9:26am | ! Report

                Sorry, I meant that if it were to occur it might work in terms of the fans reconciling and getting along / at least accepting the situation.

                I agree, I can’t see it happening. The only way it would happen would be if they told Melbourne and Canberra that they are going to cull one of them if they don’t agree, and if they were both too scared to risk a roll of the dice in case their team is the one that is cut.

              • March 10th 2017 @ 3:47pm
                Big Steve said | March 10th 2017 @ 3:47pm | ! Report

                But would they vote for it if the other option was for them to be cut?

            • March 10th 2017 @ 12:34pm
              bradm said | March 10th 2017 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

              No-one hates the Brumbies, no-one really cares for them either. They are just like the Rebels and the force in that they require NSW and QLD players to field a team.
              So as such It really makes little difference which team is cut.
              Personally I’d love to see the Force cut sole for the way it went about assembling the initial team; but that’s more or less bitterness at the ARU and a certain lock.
              Come to think of it in the early days we often referred to the Brumbies and QLD 2.

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