The Roar
The Roar


Is it too late for a Super Rugby champions concept?

The Brumbies have failed to secure bonus points this year. (Source: SNPA / Ross Setford)
Roar Rookie
1st April, 2014
1734 Reads

As a rugby fan, my attention is spread across internationals, domestic and club tournaments as well as Super Rugby. Less frequently do I feel the same heightened sense of anticipation about rugby games I used to. It’s clear that the supply of rugby games now exceeds spectator appetite.

It’s public knowledge that the broadcasters, like spectators, value intense Test and finals matches higher than Super Rugby’s round robin. Super Rugby contains some 125 games, of which only five are knock-out finals. That’s a ratio of 25 round-robin games to every final.

What’s needed from SANZAR is innovation in the tournament format to create spectator interest, while sustaining broadcast revenue.

A solution could be to evolve Super Rugby into a short, intense champions tournament. The theory is simple: move the Super Rugby tournament up the value chain by playing less games but of a higher-value.

There are multiple options for the champions format, such as an FA Cup-style knockout or Heineken Cup-style conferences. I prefer a knockout tournament, because 32 teams, say, can knockout to a winner in just five weeks. Using Rugby’s popular Sevens tournament format – with cup, plate and bowl – that’s up to 50 high-intensity games in a short period.

Let’s contrast that scenario with Super Rugby’s 125 games played over six months. The knockout tournament provides half the amount of games but 10 times as many finals (50 compared to 5) and 32 teams experience finals footy instead of 6. With more teams playing finals footy, fan engagement and spectator interest should spike dramatically. Therefore it’s possible the champions concept would be of greater interest to TV audiences and broadcasters than the 125 games played now.

Any champions tournament offered to broadcasters, together with The Rugby Championship, could see SANZAR’s broadcast revenue retained or even increased while operational costs go down. There are other benefits too:

  • The rugby season is shortened, reducing the demands on spectators and players.
  • High-intensity finals games re-engage spectators.
  • Expansion unions like Argentina, Japan or Samoa are easily accommodated in a champions format, without diluting the integrity of the competition or unduly increasing costs.
  • Each union is left with more time to manage and market their own domestic tournaments.
  • Opens the window for old-style, revenue-generating tours like All Blacks tour of Australia.

We hear it’s been difficult to reach format consensus among SANZAR’s stakeholders – and that is part of the problem with SANZAR: it’s built upon compromised decision making.


Whichever tournament format is ultimately chosen, each union should decide the shape of their representative teams – be that franchises, states, champion provinces, clubs or whatever they decide is best. SANZAR should simply decide the number of invites to issue to each union, conduct the draw and set the dates for the matches.

What’s important here is the principle that a champions tournament fixes so many of Super Rugby’s problems – particularly the supply and demand equation.

Don’t forget The Roar is hosting a live Q&A with Bill Pulver from 1pm AEDT today. Get your questions in now.