The CEOs part two: How your team will win you back in 2018

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    The 2018 Super Rugby season presents a new opportunity to start afresh for the four Australian clubs, and more importantly, to win back fans that have gone missing in the last few years.

    If you have even just the remotest connection to Australian rugby, you’ll know that 2017 wasn’t a great year. But you can’t have a recovery unless you’ve had the rough ride before it, and for the game in this country, the recovery needs to start right now.

    And it starts with reconnecting with lost supporters and lovers of the game.

    How are the four Australian sides going to do that? Well, they’ll tell you themselves.

    I’ve spoken to all four CEOs over the last week and put the same two very obvious questions to them. After starting with the Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels yesterday, today it’s the NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds to complete the series.

    NSW Waratahs – Andrew Hore

    How will your organisation reconnect with frustrated fans after last season?
    Yeah, it was very rough. If I’m honest with you, Brett, I think we recognised this last year, too. You might have noticed last summer (2016-17) we did a lot more in the community, and that will continue through this year.

    I think a big thing is being present and being part of that rugby fabric. Now, 18 months ago, the two halves of the company (NSW Rugby and the Waratahs) came back together, so giving them a feeling and an understanding of what being reconnected looks like – and that has to be them (NSW Rugby) supporting us (the Waratahs), and us supporting them.

    That’s a big job, but what we did in the community last year with the junior club blitzes, going to country centres like Mudgee; that kind of thing will all continue. But on top of that, we had an internal and an external review last year to monitor that what we were seeing internally was true, and now we’ve got to make those changes and deliver on the pitch as well.

    Waratahs Super Rugby Union 2017

    (AAP Image/Craig Golding)

    Delivering on the pitch is one thing, but if we can show that we want to be in our community, and that we want to be involved in our community, and that 86 per cent of our squad come from that community, then they will have a greater feeling of ownership of our team.

    It just shows you; the Waratahs have been putting $1.6 million into community rugby, but it’s like the wealthy dad that just doesn’t spend time with his kids. ‘Give him twenty bucks to go and get a pie and a drink and run around on the street’, when really all people want is to feel engaged with you and that we’re all in this together.

    So for us, that feeling of engagement is really important, along with getting success, so that we can continue to derive initiatives that are more focused around the volunteer, so that we can continue to develop our community coaches. So that we feel like we’re all in this together.

    There was a number of reasons why we moved out of Moore Park (to the University of NSW at Daceyville); I’m not going to hide, because people say, ‘oh, you did it because of this’; well no, we actually did it for four or five variables.

    Moore Park was a great venue and the people were brilliant. But, what you see now is that we’re right on our training field, people can come and go because the car parking is easy. You’re halfway through the day, the seniors have finished, and then the elite youth guys come in, the women’s team comes in.

    We can actually invite school groups to come in and watch us train. We’re already planning a community event for this month. So straight away, we’ve got this ability to open our doors and people can come in. I don’t think we had that at Moore Park; it was just more difficult. And that’s not anyone’s fault, it was just where we were situated.

    If you get to see the plans for the facility moving forward, it’s all very much geared around that community initiative, because that community involvement also gives my players a stronger feeling of identity in what they are playing for and what they stand for.

    To me, the greatest rugby places had that strong sense of connection, and we saw that in the late ’90s or early 2000s, when playing for New South Wales, or playing for Queensland, playing for Canterbury… you were representing the best of your rugby community. And somewhere along the line we lost that a bit, but we can get that back.

    Israel Folau NSW Waratahs Super Rugby Rugby Union 2016

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    We’re looking into ways of potentially reconfiguring our NRC teams, that would come in under the Waratahs banner, and have that progression. NSW used to do some wonderful things – north of the bridge vs south of the bridge games for example; all of that history, those rivalries are what people love.

    So some of those potential initiatives will make playing for our NRC sides a reward for playing well through the Shute Shield. To me, it sounds like the NRC was almost introduced as a stick to beat club rugby with, as opposed to what it actually is – a ten-week high performance block to see who can cut it at the next level and who can’t.

    Now if we simplify it, and don’t use it as a political tool and take the heat out of that, that’s important. There’s even an argument that we bring back the old Sydney jersey and the Country jersey; those kinds of things. There’s a lot to work through, but I think that feeling of ownership from that level below that the NRC teams are representative teams that can then be selected into another representative is the only way we can get it stitched into the fabric of the game.

    There’s still discussion around what is the right number of teams, and what is the best way forward. But there’s a lot of variables there too, because a lot of really good rugby people took those entities on in the best interests of the game, and there’s sensitivities there. We’ve got to make sure that all those people who were and are still involved are seeing a reward and getting something out of this.

    What will be the biggest differences fans will notice this season on and off the field?
    The key thing off the field is a continuation of that realignment and coordinating the two businesses into one. You’ll also see some superficial but still really important things like the two websites coming together.

    Bernard Foley of the Waratahs

    (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

    The branding is also part of that; we’ve started that with everybody now aligning under the Waratah – with the appropriate body underneath that, be it Suburban, Referees, Women’s, etc. That’s a continuation of those operating variables that make us one again.

    On the field, we had some very clear points that we needed to resolve around developing leadership, which I think Australian rugby as a whole lack.

    Our standards around our physical conditioning were also an issue.

    Elements of our play – which were pretty obvious; set piece, defence, and so on – it was pleasing to see in our trial (against the Highlanders in Queenstown) that certain elements of our set piece had improved.

    We’ve got 14 new faces in the squad, and we’ve also got Simon Cron there as well (as a new assistant coach). I know Daryl [Gibson] and the whole organisation have done a lot of work on leading ourselves; that takes time, and sometimes when hardship comes people can revert to type, but there’s definitely been a hell of a lot of work done on identifying issues and trying to address those.

    We’ve got a new promotions company on board to run our match-day – there were a lot of complaints last year from fans and members around things like the music, and so on.

    And we’ll continue to advocate for a new stadium, which gives our fans and members a better experience. There’s a whole lot of work in an around that space.

    And this new facility, too (at UNSW). It’s not going to be just all about the Waratahs at a new facility in this one area, we’ve actually got a plan to work with the state government on these five new regional facilities they’re looking to develop; we want to be actively part of that, and actually decentralise NSW somewhat to put hubs around the city, so there’s a lot of work going on in that infrastructure space, too.

    On top of that, we’ve sent out all the documentations for a new governance structure, and we’re excited by that, and hopeful that it can be ticked off at the AGM so that we can move forward and reconfigure the way we run the game in New South Wales.

    Queensland Reds – Richard Barker

    How will your organisation reconnect with frustrated fans after last season?
    First and foremost, off the back end of the NRC success last year (with Queensland Country) where two of our coaches are now responsible for the Reds in both Brad [Thorn] and Paul Carozza have been working hard with a core group of young players which we see as the future of Queensland rugby, and we know our actions have a lot to determine how we are received and engaged with the rugby community.

    Knowing Brad, you know that it is all about success for him, it’s all about winning. Let’s talk a little about the professional side of our organisation, which is the Reds. At the heart of any profession is winning, but the winning is the outcome of so many other important steps and KPIs that need to be done and I can tell you this team has set about its preseason well and truly with a work rate and ethic that for me is different to what I have seen previously.

    Now, all preseasons are all pretty good, so we’re not going to get carried away by that, but we’re not saying a lot and I know a lot of media thought Brad had gone to ground, but knowing Brad it’s about what he is; the persona that he sends. His mantra last year at the back end of the NRC was the hard road and we have to work hard to get the results.

    (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    Work hard for each other, work hard with each other, with respect, and with humility as forefront pillars for that.

    I mean even the little things – if I want to speak to the team, I have to do push ups and gut crunches as part of the presentation when you speak to the work group, because they have to see us doing that to a little degree. And that is what we have to do around the place to change it.

    And there is no doubt there is a change of direction in making that appointment, but it is a good group of young people.

    The best way to sum it up is to say that if you see a game with the Reds this year and you’re at Suncorp Stadium, when you walk away you’ll know you have seen a group of young men having a red-hot crack, and playing for the full eighty minutes for each other.

    I think that will be the quickest way to reengage with our fans and I think there will be a lot of people out there that will go, ‘Shit, I have to get back to Suncorp to watch this’.

    So that is at the heart of it all, and we are very conscience of being visible and ensuring we have responsibility for our stakeholder groups, our sub unions and our clubs, and we are doing that subtly and without too many words; it’s all about what we can do around our actions.

    Don’t get me wrong, we could have done without the other distractions (the Quade Cooper and Karmichael Hunt situations) but let me say that has probably galvanised the group and made us stronger, and more determined. But in among all of that, there have been a lot of positives.

    We have had a lot of people coming to see training, watch training, they’re hearing things that are happening, and the feeling is there is something building at the Ballymore – but we don’t want to say too much about it; we are here to set up a bit of a legacy and make our program one that players want to be part of. There is a cultural change happening, it’s values–based and standards and discipline.

    queensland-reds-super-rugby-2017

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    What will be the biggest differences fans will notice this season on and off the field?
    The off-field stuff is the cultural change that is being built. From the structure view, it is very clear with a head of professional rugby and the roles.

    We have done a lot of work in redefining that structural piece, so it is very clear. I won’t go too much into structures and procedures, but you’ve got to have that framework around you if you want to actually see that change off the field.

    We had an influx of new strength and conditioning people. Cameron Lillicrap our physio was doing really good stuff in our rehab area keeping our players fit. We have a healthy group and we are seeing that in their KPIs that they’re measuring. There is some strong improvement in those areas.

    So, a lot of stuff off the field and that’s our cultural piece but that is developing and growing at the moment. The mantra is work hard.

    We’ve got lots of flexible offerings out there around memberships; three-game, four-game options. Lots of different options and flexibility around the economics of it.

    There have been decisions made in the past that have perhaps confused the fans a little bit, but I think we are working towards the market, understanding the market, working closely with members and we have some more things planned around that during the year – things like school offerings and the like.

    We’re just really keen to get the season and the games underway and see how we go.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (96)

    • Columnist

      February 9th 2018 @ 7:31am
      Geoff Parkes said | February 9th 2018 @ 7:31am | ! Report

      That settles it then – Brumbies, Rebels, Tahs and Reds to finish first equal in Aussie conference!

      Encouraging to hear Andrew’s thoughts on the NRC. Any initiative that helps club fans align with a logical, linear Club/NRC/Super Rugby/Wallabies pathway has to be a good thing.

      • Columnist

        February 9th 2018 @ 8:43am
        Brett McKay said | February 9th 2018 @ 8:43am | ! Report

        Yeah, that was an unexpected surprise, too, prompted only by me asking ‘do you mean the NRC sides?’, to which he then got right into it.

        We could’ve kept going too, but resolved to have a deeper chat further down the road, when a few things have been properly sorted and can be announced..

      • February 9th 2018 @ 10:57am
        AndyS said | February 9th 2018 @ 10:57am | ! Report

        Very interesting indeed. Now if they could take the next logical step, being that the NRC teams then take over the player development aspect of SR. Become a year long high performance program for the local club competition, allowing the best to be paid for the additional training time, taking in club players and turning out SR ready players.

        • Roar Guru

          February 9th 2018 @ 11:02am
          Train Without A Station said | February 9th 2018 @ 11:02am | ! Report

          By my calculations if we had all non-SR players on $45k a year contracts (based on 35 man NRC squads) that would have you somewhere around $6M a year with coaches and admin to run this.

          A lot of money in the current climate. That’s exactly what we should be aspiring to though.

          • February 9th 2018 @ 11:51am
            AndyS said | February 9th 2018 @ 11:51am | ! Report

            It is, but it doesn’t need to happen all at once. It is the structure and philosophy that needs to be put in place, because it then becomes a starting point rather than the terminus we have now.

          • February 9th 2018 @ 12:33pm
            AndyS said | February 9th 2018 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

            And I would add, the starting point would be at least half the money currently spent on academies and the like, as they would/should be integrated into the structure.

            • Roar Guru

              February 9th 2018 @ 12:39pm
              Train Without A Station said | February 9th 2018 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

              The reason it’s not is because of two reasons:

              * Greater cost;
              * Not all NRC teams are financially capable.

              For example the Reds have guys on low level contracts outside their actual squad The Rebels too. I know the Rebels also have unpaid programs for promising players 16-21. There is an overlap with the coaching and admin resources.

              What purpose does it serve to double up on these resources to have them run just under a different umbrella but deliver the same program? Also why try and remove the benefit of any training with the best SR players?

              Part of the issue is with the current NRC set up, NSW’s limitations are holding us back.

              • February 9th 2018 @ 2:23pm
                AndyS said | February 9th 2018 @ 2:23pm | ! Report

                And all of those players are basically the players the NRC is about. The reason for the change is that by being entirely under the SR umbrella, it already can’t be any more. There are now only four such programs, and that is all there can be. That is at the heart of NSW problems too, as it is inherent – they are trying to make one program spread across three teams, and there is nothing that can be done about that with the structure as it is. And regardless of location, those players are the bottom of the pile in a SR organisation, which is one of the reasons the track record of talent spotting is so poor. Nor can the program ever be anything more than overhead. It is a terminus.

                Separate programs, specifically run for those players, integrated and supporting their club links, and a standalone presence as a discrete team makes it a starting point. Doesn’t preclude shared programs with the SR team either, for those with that option. It will cost more, if only because there would be significantly more players on the development spectrum from unpaid to near-professional. But what we are doing now isn’t giving the results needed, structurally almost can’t, so use that money as the starting point for something better…only pay those players as now, then look to expand. But at least growth is then a possibility, which it certainly isn’t now; quite the opposite.

          • February 9th 2018 @ 6:17pm
            Concerned Supporter said | February 9th 2018 @ 6:17pm | ! Report

            NRC games are trial games for Super Rugby
            Grassroots, TWAS, Grass roots. .
            The best result for Rugby in NSW would be to punt the head elitist, Roger Davis so that resources and concessions may be directed to Penrith and Parramatta were the young people live. He has a conflict of interest, with his association with Friends of Sydney University FC
            More Rugby players would come through this large catchment area

    • February 9th 2018 @ 7:45am
      Adsa said | February 9th 2018 @ 7:45am | ! Report

      Richard Barker came across as a politician just spinning it for all to listen. Ballymores biggest problem is they don’t understand how frustrated Qld fans are hearing this crap year after year in the revolving door of coaches.

    • February 9th 2018 @ 7:50am
      Jack Mallick said | February 9th 2018 @ 7:50am | ! Report

      Jeez the four of them can talk…goes in circles sometimes.

      I was really keen to read what Andrew Hore had to say. It was great to hear about the structural changes to governance, pathways through club and NRC and bringing it back to NSW Rugby rather than that stupid split a few years ago.

      That’s the only way forward for Oz Rugby I think. More structural changes. There’s no point making temporary cultural changes without the structure.

    • February 9th 2018 @ 8:02am
      Jamie said | February 9th 2018 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      Great stuff Andrew Hore! Really happy as a tahs supporter. He nailed it in the NRC and what the pathway should be moving forward. One thing is the the number of teams is right and please please don not get rid of the Rams. Go tahs!

    • February 9th 2018 @ 8:49am
      Concerned Supporter said | February 9th 2018 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      Maybe the NSW Waratahs would be better off, if Andrew Hore drops his elitist attitude from last year, when he said that better people play Rugby, after S.Kenny Dowell was busted for cocaine.It will come back to bite him.Lots of Rugby people have served time in Silverwater for drugs.

      • February 9th 2018 @ 10:12am
        chappy said | February 9th 2018 @ 10:12am | ! Report

        And Andrew Hore is what everyone outside of the GPS schools hate about Rugby Union.

        The reason NRL and AFL are strong in this country is they have working-class supporters at their core.

        You only have to go to the SFS and watch a Waratahs game and see the people in the crowd to see why RU is on the nose in Australia.

        • Roar Guru

          February 9th 2018 @ 10:33am
          Train Without A Station said | February 9th 2018 @ 10:33am | ! Report

          Working class doesn’t prevent people from being good people…

          • February 9th 2018 @ 12:29pm
            Malo said | February 9th 2018 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

            Rugby is becoming more elitist with attitudes like ‘twas. Rugby had its chance in the 90s to be a community based great inclusive sport but the aru likes of INeill blew the finances in themselves and the elite. It continues with the admin. Completely removed from the spectator.

            • Roar Guru

              February 9th 2018 @ 12:30pm
              Train Without A Station said | February 9th 2018 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

              What’s elitist about saying working class people can be good people too champ?

            • Columnist

              February 9th 2018 @ 1:23pm
              Brett McKay said | February 9th 2018 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

              Ever considered that attitudes so still clearly rooted in the amateur days are holding the game back?

              • Roar Guru

                February 9th 2018 @ 1:26pm
                Train Without A Station said | February 9th 2018 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

                Funny how he ignores that O’Neil dumped around $10M over a period into Shute Shield.

        • Roar Rookie

          February 9th 2018 @ 3:02pm
          Don said | February 9th 2018 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

          Funny…
          When I stand in the can bar at my Premier Grade club watching a game I am shoulder to shoulder with plumbers, chippies, accountants, firemen, clerks, students, senior managers of large businesses, medicos, students, retirees Etc.

          For all the rot that gets thrown around about elitism being rife in Rugby, outside of our away games at Uni, and the parents at alot of Schoolboys games you just don’t see much evidence of it. Nor is it widely visible at Reds games.

          Of course there are jerks everywhere. Brisbane Broncos games have as many pretentious people in the corporate boxes and the stands as rugby has.

          • Roar Guru

            February 9th 2018 @ 3:17pm
            Train Without A Station said | February 9th 2018 @ 3:17pm | ! Report

            I’ve played with more tradies and public school educated people (there was a time I was both of them) than private school yuppies, that’s for sure.

            • February 10th 2018 @ 6:15pm
              Malo said | February 10th 2018 @ 6:15pm | ! Report

              Yeah aus rugby is killing it? Wake up you imbeciles. Why is rugby booming everywhere but here? Ask the hard questions Brett and stop siding with the aru.

        • February 12th 2018 @ 12:14pm
          JP said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

          ^ Chappie True, I go to a great old schoolmates corporate suite regularly at the SFS and half the blokes never watch the footy, not fans at all of Rugby ,more NRL ( All NRL Roosters games including finals ) and ( All Super Rugby Waratahs and June tests ) ( All A league games including finals) Most get stuck into the gourmet food sitting on the comfy lounge inside and quaffing free turps chatting away networking or comparing bank balances. 50 percent of the guys don`t like ball sports and 80 percent don’t like Rugby.

          P.S A Servant is included of course, to open our beers and pour our wine.LOL

      • Columnist

        February 9th 2018 @ 10:22am
        Brett McKay said | February 9th 2018 @ 10:22am | ! Report

        Would Waratahs supporters also not be better off by listening to and engaging with everything else Andrew Hore has said about rugby and the Waratahs and everything else since he made that one comment last May?

        That’s not to downplay what he said at the time at all, but you’ve literally ignored the type of thing NSW rugby fans have been asking about for yonks just so you can bring this up again? What does that serve?

      • Roar Pro

        February 9th 2018 @ 12:09pm
        PapanuiPirate said | February 9th 2018 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

        I think Hore has imported that opinion CS. Because Rugby is played by all classes in NZ, League is often seen as where you send the guys you don’t want playing Union, the real rough thugs and crooks.

        Things are changing , probably as a result of society in general becoming less violent and league seeking to clean up its act on both side of the ditch, but old opinions die hard. I certainly agree that comments like that, while possbily based on a completely different paradigm, can be seen to re-enforce the league-union class divide in Australia.

        • Roar Guru

          February 9th 2018 @ 12:17pm
          Train Without A Station said | February 9th 2018 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

          It could also be that Rugby necessitates team work more so than Rugby League, so it creates a more team focused environment.

          • Roar Pro

            February 9th 2018 @ 2:53pm
            PapanuiPirate said | February 9th 2018 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

            I think the relative dominance of the Union code plays a big part. Also there are certain historical dynamics.

            Broadly I think in New Zealand you could get kicked out of your Union team for being a thug and League would take you because they were desperate for players.

            In Australia it was historically far more class driven, which also brings with it a whole lot of baggage about what is acceptable to different classes with regards to behaviour in different eras.

        • February 9th 2018 @ 5:58pm
          Concerned Supporter said | February 9th 2018 @ 5:58pm | ! Report

          PP
          All due respects tp you , Andrew Hore (not the AB hookerz) is a recent Kiwi blow in

    • February 9th 2018 @ 8:56am
      bigbaz said | February 9th 2018 @ 8:56am | ! Report

      So the Reds boss is doing push-ups and crunchs , that should help us at the backend of a game. Seriously, if they want to connect with Qld rugby fans they probably need to know there are a heap of successful rugby clubs north of Noosa who have no faith in you lot.

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