The ARU needs to merge, not purge

Timbo (L) Roar Guru

By Timbo (L), Timbo (L) is a Roar Guru

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58 Have your say

    We are on the eve of a big decision and it needs to be the right one.

    For Australian rugby to survive it needs more players, more supporters, more sponsors.

    In a thriving market with content hungry fans, this is any easy problem to solve, the AFL and to some extent the NRL have chosen to expand, expand, expand!

    Like the Romans, they have established garrisons and outposts on every scrap of their hard-fought territory.

    They have had the resolve to cut off any gangrenous limbs to protect their brand. Re-badge or relocate not wall off Scotland’s north and leave it to the Highlander savages.

    But what do you do about a problem like my rugby, a niche game with a couple of strongholds and some pockets of resistance scattered across the country.

    The strongholds are OK, just. They can bring in enough spectators and the sponsorship that comes with them. Junior players follow. It doesn’t matter if they win or lose, they have reached a critical mass to survive.

    But what about the provincial sides, they don’t have the active supporter base to self-sustain, they have to rely on handouts from their richer cousins to survive.

    ben-meehan-rebels-super-rugby-2017

    Recent events have illustrated that there is not enough money in the coffers to support the three struggling provincial Super Rugby franchises.

    As a consumer, I hear the ARU, the media and many fans saying that is that there isn’t enough talent to support five franchises either.

    I am a bit cynical and feel like this is a way to soften the fan-base into agreeing to purge.

    It has certainly worked in regions where their franchises are not under threat.

    I am not convinced the problem is that there isn’t enough money to cultivate and retain Australian talent. And there is plenty of it, enough for at least one extra franchise, fully trained up in Europe and Japan, much more squandered to the NRL and AFL.

    I watched the Broncos play the Titans this weekend and saw eight playmakers that would hold their own in a playmaking jersey in at NRC level.

    Australian rugby has been left with less than a handful of number 10s to choose from. A dozen locks ply their trade as AFL ruckmen each weekend.

    This puts the ARU are in a difficult position.

    If it were NRL or AFL, they would just shut the franchise down, their fan-base and junior players just move to the next closest team, usually within 50 km’s away.

    They still have the same number of viewers, their team plays at a different ground in a different jersey. Their Bears shirt now has a Lion on it.

    Israel Folau Waratahs Super Rugby Union 2017

    The ACT Brumbies’ fans and junior regions are Sydney overflow and regional New South Wales, If they were shut down, the rugby supporter attrition rates, although undesirable, would be relatively low compared to the Rebels or Force.

    If you close down the Western Force or the Melbourne Rebels, you lose a significant portion of their fans and their grass roots program withers. It doesn’t matter how much cash you plough into grass roots, if you don’t have a local side to idolise and barrack for, the ship will be lost beneath the waves in the heavy seas of a competitive market.

    At the risk of boring the readers with mathematics, let’s look at some hypothetical numbers: three sides bring in 2/3rds of the income they require – in total enough for two sides.

    In this hypothetical, we remove one team and its 2/3rds income and supporters, so this leaves enough supporters and funds for 1.3 sides total. The burden on the ARU is reduced by 1/3rd but there are still two teams below the yellow line.

    In reality the dynamics are far more complex but the general principle holds. If the SANZAAR are consistent, the cuts will continue, with the loss of the second team inevitable. Super 12 is on the Horizon.

    So how do you drop a team and keep the supporters and the grass roots programs?

    This becomes an exercise in psychology and understanding consumer behaviour. Although elite rugby is now a commercial product, it still has a strong link back to amateur rugby at a club level making it more personal.

    A bit like the Ford versus Holden battle in motor racing, fans are loyal and not as predictable as Coke versus Pepsi, Heinz versus Watties.

    I am speaking as a fan that has lived in four out of the five franchise cities. I only have Australian Brumby Territory to add to my bucket list.

    I am pretty lucky because I am happy to watch any Australian Franchise, anywhere. I could survive on a diet of four franchises donating two home games a year to play at my local stadium add an international for good measure.

    But I am in the minority, neither a club player nor a loyalist, but I do understand a fan’s mindset. The true value of a local team that you can call your own, local players touring the schools doing community outreach should not be dismissed.

    Tribal mentality is in our DNA and ignoring this fact is done at your own peril.

    So, the keystone of a good solution requires the maintenance of a local presence of an elite franchise in all provinces. A merger has everything going for it, except for the complexity of implementation.

    It is said that a good compromise is one where everyone leaves the table unhappy and I don’t see this being any different.

    To the Star Wars fans, the Rebel Force Alliance, copyright infringements aside, has a nice ring to it. It solves a large number of problems.

    Here is where the brainstorming suggestions and fact free rhetoric begins. I am sure some of it will inflame fans and trolls alike.

    We are looking down the barrel of a massive payout and millions in legal fees. Giving Andrew Cox the reins for the remains of the contract is an obvious solution.

    Competition wide there will be 90 players out of work and probably the same number again of coaches, trainers, admin and medical.

    It is easy enough to use terms like natural attrition and transfers but at its heart there is still a contraction and job losses.

    Well-funded teams like Toulon and teams with great depth like the New Zealand Franchises have the luxury of rotating and resting players to manage fatigue and injury. Instead of the money saved going to buying back prestige and marquee players, I think it would be better spent on expanding the squads and the associated player development.

    There is a problem in the corporate world where managers get promoted and ‘Kick away the Ladder’ preventing younger, better skilled staff from progressing and taking their jobs.

    Bringing in managers from other companies further increases the log jam at the top. The same applies to Wallaby and Super Rugby.

    There is a concentration of ‘Elites’ at the top level, which will continue with the contraction of Super Rugby teams.

    Selectors require experience in the job that they are applying for, creating a vicious circle. For prospects to gain elite status and progress they have to wait for an injury or go overseas.

    Israel Folau tries to break the tackle of Dane Coles

    Expanded squads help to expose and harden the emerging players for a more competitive arena.

    My suggestions for implementation and troll bait.

    1. The Nomadic Rebel Force squad gets a concession to extend its squad even further, a core, senior group and smaller local development groups in both Perth and Melbourne.

    I am reminded of the extended squad at a Western Force versus Perth Spirit game played in Bunbury earlier this year. Hodgo versus Hardwick, the old guard meets the new breed in a teachable moment.

    2. The majority of South African Games to be played in Perth, New Zealand in Melbourne. Save a Chiefs game for Perth, they sellout for reason. This is an easy way to reduce player travel fatigue.

    3. Reds, Brumbies and Waratahs to play all Rebel Force games away. This is a controversial suggestion, but critical in ensuring that the provinces maintain a presence. The other Australian franchises need to contribute to the solution.

    4. One home game per conference (SA, NZ) to be surrendered to the Rebel Force. This is a SANZAAR problem and they need to be part of the solution.

    To the last problem to solve is the gap between amateur and professional skills and performance levels. The problem is not directly linked to the loss of a team but why not seize a potential opportunity.

    I think the NRC concept is fantastic. Its perceived prime objective – to keep Wallabies fit – is achieved. It also allows the franchises to window shop for emerging talent for next year, but why stop there?

    Emotionally I think many of us would like to see it extend into the Super Rugby season, providing a platform for fringe players and players recovering from injury to get match fitness at a near elite level. It is also a great opportunity to showcase Rugby to regional areas and promote grass roots.

    Commercially, the Super Rugby Players in an extended squad are already being paid, so no real problems there, but the prospect players are still amateur weekend warriors with day jobs.

    There are player payments, admin and travel costs that need to be covered. This could be offset by a potential revenue stream with sponsorship and TV rights. Or even from the alleged windfall from axing a team.

    The counter argument is to use club rugby for this purpose. The Shute Shield may be at a high enough standard but I am not sure that that can be said for the Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra or the Pindan Comp in Perth.

    Full credit to their level and intensity but I suspect a pseudo elite country wide pro-am competition might be what is needed to bridge the skills and experience gap. I think the kiwi model is spot on. Perhaps some clever hybrid of the two is the Australian answer.

    As always, Have your say, can this work?

    Have Your Say



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    The Crowd Says (58)

    • Roar Rookie

      April 17th 2017 @ 4:53am
      Huw Tindall said | April 17th 2017 @ 4:53am | ! Report

      Some good thinking in here Timbo and the whole NRC implication is one I haven’t seen addressed yet. This year the NRC is adding a Fiji team….but is the Melbourne/Perth team going to play the NRC? When will they be wound up? Can an NRC team remain without a Super parent in Melbourne or Perth?

      • April 17th 2017 @ 8:32am
        Timbo (L) said | April 17th 2017 @ 8:32am | ! Report

        It is essential that both The Spirit and the Rising continue if the grass roots programs, but it would need a full season NRC comp instead of the abridged version that it is now.

    • April 17th 2017 @ 8:48am
      Timbo (L) said | April 17th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

      For a Brumbies-Rebels version of a merge, read p.Tah;s article here:
      http://www.theroar.com.au/2017/04/17/time-southern-brumbies/#comment-5625876

      The are some well made points there as well.

    • April 17th 2017 @ 9:47am
      frisky said | April 17th 2017 @ 9:47am | ! Report

      Cutting a team is stupid. There must be other ways to improve the economics. I would like to see the size of the costs of the beauorocracy. Given my experience of living in Canberra, officialdom is where lot of useless overpaid fat resides.

      Having five teams has spread the talent, but it has also allowed new fresh talent to emerge. Remember that the Brumbies were made up of rejects from the other two teams, and within a decade were the premier side in th world, and changed the way the game was played, not to mention that they were the backbone of the two RWC winning sides. Would this great talent have emerged if the Brumbies had not been created.

      Despite the poor results soo far this season, most of the games have been tight. Losing to NZ teams has caused much angst, but given that NZ is #1 and Daylight is #2, that should not come as a shock. So many games have come down to the bounce of one ball or one refereeing decision.

      Reading all the moaning on this site, one would expect to see Australia rated in the teens or twenties, not #3 and permanently vacillating in the top three positions. There are 120 rugby nations and Australia’s worst position has been #4, and usually #2/3. That would be a rating that most other sports would give their eye teeth for.

      • April 17th 2017 @ 10:17am
        Red Menace said | April 17th 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

        The Brumbies were not around in 1991, so had no influence on the RWC. In 1996 they were not just made up of rejects but a lot of locals. Not just the Gregans and Roffs but that blond lock Sweeney (first name ?) and the super sub Fanikato (Spelling ?) plus many more. After a decade, the Brumbies success had dried up and were not the premier side in the world. In future please check your facts.

        • Roar Rookie

          April 17th 2017 @ 11:37am
          Kirky said | April 17th 2017 @ 11:37am | ! Report

          The Brumbies have never been “the top team in the World” Where did that come from?

          It appears that the Brumbies are skating on very thin ice and are barely hanging on in there, and they have done nothing for over ten years, and considering that no team should ever run on nostalgia, why are they still there?

          • April 17th 2017 @ 1:42pm
            Red Menace said | April 17th 2017 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

            Exactly Kirky. The Brumbies are the ones that should be under the microscope. Especially after the dodgy sale of their premises in Griffith(ACT). This sale plus the deal with Canberra Uni was supposed to make the Brumbies financially secure, yet they are still making a loss.

          • April 17th 2017 @ 1:54pm
            Bakkies said | April 17th 2017 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

            The Brumbies have been in the Finals since 2013 and on track to make a profit this season you two dopes.

            • April 17th 2017 @ 6:50pm
              Jacko said | April 17th 2017 @ 6:50pm | ! Report

              Rubbish Bakkies. They lost over 2.5 million over the last 2 seasons. And only survive by selling off land they had. Still have about 1 mil in the bank from that sale but that is disappearing fast

              • April 17th 2017 @ 8:55pm
                Sheepster said | April 17th 2017 @ 8:55pm | ! Report

                Actually they would have made a profit last year if not for the legal fees and payout to ex-CEO Michael Jones and that debacle. They are forecasting a $500,000 profit this year.
                http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-08/canberra-brumbies-record-800k-loss-for-2016/8253240

              • April 18th 2017 @ 12:36am
                Bakkies said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:36am | ! Report

                Land they had on leasehold and had inadequate facilities and office space. Read the player’s stories about the dressing rooms and showers in Griffith.

        • April 18th 2017 @ 12:11am
          frisky said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:11am | ! Report

          • April 18th 2017 @ 12:25am
            frisky said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:25am | ! Report

            When the Brumbies thrashed the Crusaders in the S12 final in 2004, who do you think was the best club side in the world? The 2001 S12 winning side must also be a contender
            I suggest that Rod McQueen did change the face of rugby. I am sorry that you were not there to watch the Brumbies in the late 90’s and early 00’s -it was poetry in motion. Such a change from the usual forward dominated predictable play.
            I still have the tape of the 50-something to SFA against the highly rated Waratahs at Bruce Stadium.

            • April 18th 2017 @ 12:37am
              Bakkies said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:37am | ! Report

              Are you able to upload that match? It was one of the best moments in Australian Rugby

      • Roar Guru

        April 17th 2017 @ 11:10am
        Timbo (L) said | April 17th 2017 @ 11:10am | ! Report

        All good points, I especially see the player development benefit. We all want 5 teams to stay.
        The cards have been dealt and we can’t make a full house with 4 cards. My forecast is we will be down to 3 by 2020.

      • April 17th 2017 @ 11:41am
        Train Without A Station said | April 17th 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        4 teams is not a way forward I agree.

        But your comments on the officialdom are not realistic.

        The ARU already pays less than any other governing body.

        It’s top executives are less paid. Per head their corporate costs are lower.

        There may be some fat in redundant roles, but I doubt this is any huge expense in the grand scheme of things.

        Say if we cut 10 people and that saved $1M a year. That really won’t change the financial situation.

        The problem is the commercial success of Super Rugby, and the risk of the franchises needing financial assistance.

        We can plow on with 5 and survive.

        But if one franchise needs financial assistance before 2020, we will likely go bankrupt in 2019.

        I don’t by any means advocate focusing on short term thinking. But I believe when there is a real insolvency risk, you have no choice not to.

        As somebody who has read through the financials to try and understand the situation, I see it as this:

        Continue on the Super 15 or similar and sign up to anything that provides less than $53M a year in TV revenue (deal is $57M) – we go broke in 2016.

        Sign up to the Super 18 deal – we survive 2016. But depending on health of the franchises, could go broke in 2019.

        Cut a team. Lose a whole city and keep the $57M – we may survive past 2019 and hopefully to 2025 when the Lions Tour will provide tens of millions in profit to stabilise.

        Now to me, we had a choice between a bunch of terrible options. We either risk going broke, or we completely lose and alienate a market. But I firmly believe if we go broke as a game, there is no coming back for us. We don’t have the huge playing base and interest in o/s leagues that soccer does.

        • April 17th 2017 @ 7:10pm
          In Brief said | April 17th 2017 @ 7:10pm | ! Report

          If we keep five teams we may go bankrupt, but then again we may grow our way to success. I can’t see any growth coming from cutting a team. Cutting a team is effectively withdrawing investment in the sport, this will not bring growth in the long term. Frustratingly, the super rugby format will remain flawed.

          The only potential silver lining will come if more focus is given to the NRC and we develop a genuine national competition.

          • April 17th 2017 @ 9:34pm
            Train Without A Station said | April 17th 2017 @ 9:34pm | ! Report

            I can’t see growth from cutting a team either.

            I guess it depends on how likely bankruptcy is.

            Based on the last 5 years, it would be almost certain.

            • Roar Rookie

              April 18th 2017 @ 11:00am
              BlouBul said | April 18th 2017 @ 11:00am | ! Report

              Bankruptcy might just be the saviour of our game.
              Start with a clean slate, no baggage and no special deals with certain entities. Level the playing field and let all the teams have a fair go. You make it you live on, you don’t you go under. Union/Future ARB ownership should be limited to 50% of any entity, the rest should be owned by people that are prepared to pay good money as investment.

              • Roar Guru

                April 18th 2017 @ 11:31am
                Train Without A Station said | April 18th 2017 @ 11:31am | ! Report

                Doubtful.

                It worked for Soccer because it was the most played of the 4 codes already. Plus there was already huge interest in overseas soccer.

                For rugby all interest is fixated on Australian rugby. Lack of funds for a year or two would see participation erode even further to levels which would never facilitate growth to a professional game.

                Australian rugby needs funds and continuity or else it would disappear.

              • Roar Guru

                April 18th 2017 @ 11:34am
                Train Without A Station said | April 18th 2017 @ 11:34am | ! Report

                Think about this.

                If the ARU goes broke – Super Rugby dies. There are no teams. All Wallabies players scramble overseas to ensure they are contracted.

                If we try and play the Wallabies it’s either thrown together like a friendly, or amateurs who cop a beating.

                The code is shrinking because other games can afford to run DO’s through schools. Increasing our force and doing the same this year finally saw the U6-U11 age group get some increase on club numbers.

                If we go broke all the DO’s go, the junior numbers erode. Every year more and more 6 year olds are brought into AFL or soccer. They develop friends in these sports and are little chance of coming to rugby later.

                We would lose years of potential future fans whilst we recover. And that’s assuming we somehow do recover.

                Unless there’s a rich benefactor willing to dump $100M to stem the bleeding it doesn’t work.

    • April 17th 2017 @ 9:54am
      iSteve said | April 17th 2017 @ 9:54am | ! Report

      It was all making sense until you proposed a merger between Rebels and Force and that’s where your article lost its way. If you had proposed a merger between Rebels and Brumbies then you would have maintained a legitimate argument because of their proximity.

      When you apply all your other logic about player, coach and admin staff together with supporters and apply it to the Brumbies moving to a bigger market then you’re making sense. As much as Brumbies fans don’t want to face this reality, no team does, but logistically and in order to maintain the integrity of a natiional competition without a huge litigious outcome for the ARU then the east coast need to suck it up and sort it.

      • Roar Guru

        April 17th 2017 @ 10:51am
        Timbo (L) said | April 17th 2017 @ 10:51am | ! Report

        I am not really sold on who merges with whom, there are many plausible permutations. Reds – Force, Tahs – Rebels, Ponies – Rebels. My pitch is that the ARU should find the best one. Proximity isn’t much of an issue, teams are on the road most of the time anyway.

        Tah’s-Brumbies? They are sourcing from the same stocks already and are just as close.

      • April 18th 2017 @ 12:27am
        frisky said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:27am | ! Report

        Why not merge the Reds and the Tahs – you might then be able to create a reasonably compeitive team out of that combined talent.

      • April 18th 2017 @ 12:39am
        Bakkies said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:39am | ! Report

        ‘If you had proposed a merger between Rebels and Brumbies then you would have maintained a legitimate argument because of their proximity.’

        You do realise that it takes 8 hours to drive from Canberra to Melbourne or the other option is to pay an extortionate $240 for a single return airfare. That’s before you even buy match tickets, pay to eat and sleep.

        • April 18th 2017 @ 6:43pm
          Jacko said | April 18th 2017 @ 6:43pm | ! Report

          Perhaps he was meaning you have HOME games in Canberra and Melbourne rather than expecting fans to go to the different cities than they live in.

          • Roar Rookie

            April 18th 2017 @ 6:51pm
            piru said | April 18th 2017 @ 6:51pm | ! Report

            Cute that you guys think 8 hours is a long car trip

            or that $240 is a lot for a plane ticket

          • April 19th 2017 @ 9:19am
            Bakkies said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

            ‘Perhaps he was meaning you have HOME games in Canberra and Melbourne rather than expecting fans to go to the different cities than they live in.’

            No it was a pile of bollocks. You are clearly deluded to think that there would be an even split of home games. It will cost ACT Rugby fans well over a grand on flights and accommodation (before they buy match tickets and pay to eat) to take their families down to Melbourne to watch ‘their’ team dish out an annual beating to the Reds.

    • April 17th 2017 @ 10:06am
      Browny said | April 17th 2017 @ 10:06am | ! Report

      At the end of the day, you’re still messing with Cox’s license, the brand he owns, and taking games away from AAMI park where he has a long term stadium deal sorted… and he’ll still go for the ARU’s throat because of that.

      • Roar Guru

        April 17th 2017 @ 10:58am
        Timbo (L) said | April 17th 2017 @ 10:58am | ! Report

        With the alternative being the axe and a drawn out legal battle with an uncertain outcome, I would hope he has open ears and an open mind.
        There is more to life than home games and if I were Cox and given the opportunity to expand my empire, I would be Jumping on it. As to the stadium commitments, if the surviving 3 are made to donate a home game each and they pick up 1 each from NZ and SA, they fulfill the stadium deals for both cities. There needs to be belt tightening all around.

        It is all predicated on a collection of intelligent people checking their ego’s at the door and working together to create solution that works individually and collectively. The wolves are barking at the door, it is time to work together to stave them off, not run around the field naked screaming the sky is falling.
        * Queue the Laugh track and mockery, ARU and intelligence in the same sentence! You must be off your rocker!

      • April 17th 2017 @ 1:56pm
        Bakkies said | April 17th 2017 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

        ‘you’re still messing with Cox’s license, the brand he is still being subsidised by the ARU’

        correction

        • Roar Guru

          April 17th 2017 @ 3:27pm
          Timbo (L) said | April 17th 2017 @ 3:27pm | ! Report

          They all do, Cox just negotiated a better deal than the rest of them. The subsidy is in the contact, it was almost as though the ARU got a loan from Imperium with interest terms of 30% over 6 years.

          • April 18th 2017 @ 12:42am
            Bakkies said | April 18th 2017 @ 12:42am | ! Report

            If he had to agree to a subsidy then he is not as affluent as people think he is and the Rebels don’t have full independence from the ARU.

            • April 18th 2017 @ 8:37am
              Browny said | April 18th 2017 @ 8:37am | ! Report

              Apparently he’s pulling in a lazy $100M revenue a year so you think he’s not doing too bad. Got $11.5M not too long ago for selling Melbourne Heart FC to Manchester City so I imagine there’s a bit of cash floating around. I’d say that he’s fairly affluent.

              • Roar Rookie

                April 18th 2017 @ 6:52pm
                piru said | April 18th 2017 @ 6:52pm | ! Report

                I thought Cox was looking to withdraw?

              • Roar Guru

                April 18th 2017 @ 7:02pm
                Machooka said | April 18th 2017 @ 7:02pm | ! Report

                This comment is sooo wrong piru!

              • April 18th 2017 @ 7:34pm
                ThugbyFan said | April 18th 2017 @ 7:34pm | ! Report

                Machooka, you are SOoooooooooooooooooooo bad! LoL

                If he does withdraw, will the ARU take a pregnant pause on their plans.

                And do we call a subsidy to the owner and the Rebels a “viagra loan”? For it helps him to stay up in the competition? 🙂

              • April 18th 2017 @ 8:01pm
                cuw said | April 18th 2017 @ 8:01pm | ! Report

                that is overkill – like a Jim Carey movie 🙂

              • April 19th 2017 @ 9:22am
                Bakkies said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:22am | ! Report

                Browny I dread to think the millions more he would be losing just from the Rebels alone if there wasn’t an ARU subsidy. Businessmen aren’t willing to lose money hand over fist like that.

    • April 17th 2017 @ 10:47am
      Adrian Denyer said | April 17th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

      Good idea

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