John O’Neill wades into Super Rugby debate

sheek Roar Guru

By sheek, sheek is a Roar Guru

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    Former boss of Australian rugby John O’Neill’s abrasive style is both grating and polarising, but there’s no doubting his success rate.

    You can argue O’Neill was lucky, especially during his first stint with the ARU (1996-2003), when a great collection of players came together at the Wallabies.

    Then again, when he moved briefly to the FFA (2004-07), the same thing happened, with a great collection of players coming together at the Socceroos.

    But O’Neill played his part in both triumphant periods, off the field as well as on, ensuring behind the scenes that both the Wallabies and the Socceroos had all the tools necessary to succeed.

    To very broadly paraphrase the great golfer Gary Player, successful people often make their own luck because they work hard at being the best they can be.

    In an article in the Daily Telegraph, O’Neill has waded into the Super Rugby debate, calling for the Argentine Jaguares, Japanese Sunwolves and Southern Kings (from South Africa) to be axed.

    I agree with O’Neill about the latter two being dumped, but disagree on the Jaguares. Structurally, since the Pumas are part of the Rugby Championship, it logically follows that they ought to be represented in the Super Rugby.

    O’Neill is right in saying that the SARU should have been told to sort their franchise arrangements in-house, instead of unloading an uncompetitive team onto the international stage.

    The Sunwolves is a clear case of SANZAAR over-reaching, putting revenue raising ahead of sound, practical principles.

    O’Neill argues the Super Rugby should return to 15 teams, followed by a dialogue with New Zealand Rugby Union about a trans-Tasman comp.

    I’m not too sure what O’Neill is trying to conjure at this point, as it is simply a continuum of an already cluttered method of thinking and planning. However, I agree with him on this: “[who] called on the ARU to stand up and fight for the best interests of Australian rugby instead of trying to please SANZAAR and world rugby”.

    Amen to that. As an aside, where are the Roarers who were proclaiming we should continue to expand Super Rugby into the rest of Asia and North America? Leave that to World Rugby (ex-IRB), that’s their job.

    O’Neill goes on to provide a counter-point to current ARU boss Bill Pulver, who argues that sometimes you have to put the good of all rugby ahead of Australian rugby.

    Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and ARU boss Bill Pulver during the third Test match between the British and Irish Lions and the Wallabies at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Saturday, July 6, 2013. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    However, this is clearly not working for the good of Australian rugby. In fact, this line of thinking has directly contributed to the mess Australian rugby finds itself in today.

    O’Neill says the ARU must put the interests of Australian rugby first, noting “What Australian rugby needs is prime-time content. Everyone knows content is king.”

    However, O’Neill doesn’t differentiate between pay-TV and free-to-air, prime-time content.

    Clearly, Australian rugby is being cruelled by not being seen on free-to-air.

    I also find it ironic that O’Neill goes on to talk about the importance of tribalism and the need for teams to be playing regularly in their home cities to win the “battle for hearts and minds”.

    Ironic because O’Neill appears to be a champion of revenue streams first and foremost.

    Yet, by its nature, Super Rugby runs counter to these sentiments mentioned by O’Neill. The Super Rugby teams play too often overseas in unfriendly time slots.

    If the ARU wants Australian rugby to improve and win its own niche of fans separate from the AFL, NRL and A-League, then they need their own national domestic comp, with Australian teams full of Australian players, playing against other Australian teams on Australian grounds in Australian cities.

    That is what made South Africa’s Currie Cup and New Zealand’s NPC so beloved and successful before professionalism arrived.

    Finally, I also agree no Australian provincial team should be culled. These five teams are the base, the building blocks, of any future national comp.

    To drop any of these teams would admit failure and be the beginning of the end for Australian rugby. Another way forward must be found that helps preserve these five provincial teams.

    A former rugby lock, cricket no.11 bat and no.10 bowler, and surfboat rower. A fan of the major team sports in Australia.

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    The Crowd Says (120)

    • February 24th 2017 @ 1:11pm
      Hello said | February 24th 2017 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

      Thanks for the read Sheek.
      Agree about the aus super teams we need to try to keep all 5.
      As to Super rugby it is fubar.
      I have no idea where we could even start to fix it – it has become a monster and needs a complete overhaul and start from scratch

      • February 27th 2017 @ 12:39pm
        mania said | February 27th 2017 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

        get rid of kings, rebels and force

    • Roar Guru

      February 24th 2017 @ 1:25pm
      Fionn said | February 24th 2017 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

      Do you think a trans-Tasman competition rather than Super Rugby is actually possible/likely?

      • Roar Rookie

        February 24th 2017 @ 1:36pm
        piru said | February 24th 2017 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

        I think that would be the best case scenario personally.

        5 (or 6) sides each

      • February 24th 2017 @ 2:03pm
        AndyS said | February 24th 2017 @ 2:03pm | ! Report

        I would see it eventually inevitable. The only question is whether the existing competition evolves into something like it, or whether the whole arrangement just breaks up and everyone starts scrambling desperately for what they can salvage. The first would be preferred for mine, as the second would have the Unions going cap in hand to broadcasters and having to take what they can get.

        • Roar Rookie

          February 24th 2017 @ 2:12pm
          piru said | February 24th 2017 @ 2:12pm | ! Report

          SA were threatening to go play in Europe last time it was all negotiated – I say we let them go and worry about ourselves.

          Kiwis and Aussies love is taking the micky out of each other, what better way to do so than to have Aussie vs Kiwi every weekend!

          The ANZ Trans Tasman Netball comp was well followed, I can’t for the life of me see why it was canned.

          The other option I see, is if Super Rugby stays the unwieldy behemoth that it is, is if the NRC and NPC can somehow be incorporated – I don’t know what the ramifications would be there, but it would be great if it could be done.

          • February 24th 2017 @ 2:31pm
            Republican said | February 24th 2017 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

            …….I already believe the whole Trans Tasman thing is over exposed while it has had the effect of devaluing international contests between what are essentially sovereign nations piru.
            The lines of demarcation between our nations is already blurred which I personally believe is culturally detrimental……

            • Roar Rookie

              February 24th 2017 @ 7:57pm
              piru said | February 24th 2017 @ 7:57pm | ! Report

              I actually believe the opposite Republican, there are no two countries on earth as close as NZ and Aus, long may it continue.

          • February 24th 2017 @ 2:35pm
            AndyS said | February 24th 2017 @ 2:35pm | ! Report

            With the structure now, I would have said the better option would be to try and get Europe to come to us. In the NH the clubs are private entities, so if they felt like putting a team out in the African conference I’m not sure there would be much anyone could do to stop them. I think having some of the big name clubs and some geographical spread from Europe would add a lot of interest.

            • February 24th 2017 @ 3:11pm
              Republican said | February 24th 2017 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

              ……..lateral concept indeed AndyS……..

            • February 26th 2017 @ 12:11am
              Bakkies said | February 26th 2017 @ 12:11am | ! Report

              ‘In the NH the clubs are private entities, so if they felt like putting a team out in the African conference I’m not sure there would be much anyone could do to stop them’

              Not all of them are private entities. The respective unions also have to sign agreement too before the IRB can approve participation in a cross border competition. That won’t happen.

              • February 26th 2017 @ 1:30am
                AndyS said | February 26th 2017 @ 1:30am | ! Report

                But some are, and I would think they would have to come up with a pretty good reason to be telling a club what they can and can’t do if it didn’t affect their competitions…would open all manner of questions about who actually owns brands and what is reasonable restraint of trade. My recollection is that some of the French teams are part of bigger multi-sport organisations, so the FFR already has limited control over them. I also wonder if there would be anything at all they could do if Boudjellal felt like fielding a separate team called Toulon that happened to share some of his facilities? Half his team aren’t eligible for France anyway, so that stick won’t work.

                But then that only matters if you were talking about the home nations anyway. Georgia has just been flipped the bird by the 6N, and they in particular might benefit from some summer rugby. There is a lot of rugby in Europe that is being left out and whose Unions might have no qualms. Mind you, I wouldn’t necessarily rule out Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales getting sick of fighting it out for 7 spots between them in the ERCC and liking the idea of a second string to the bow. They could quite reasonably argue that it has nothing whatsoever to do with any of the other competitions, so the other Unions could mind their own business.

        • Roar Guru

          February 24th 2017 @ 2:19pm
          Fionn said | February 24th 2017 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

          I’d be quite happy with a trans-Tasman competition. I would prefer if NZ had a few more times than Australia so that (hopefully) the rivalry would be a little more equal, but simply having a competition that could be followed would be a vast improvement over what we have now.

          I would have thought that 5 Aussie teams and 7 Kiwi teams (like a Super 12 :P) would be a good mix: with the top 4 playing finals regardless of which nationality they are.

          If the Australians insist on having at least one team in the finals then have an Aussie and a NZ conference with the top team from each conference making the finals, with 3rd and 4th overall making up the next two spots.

          Or else, if you want more matches, have a top 6 in which the top 2 go straight to the semi-finals while 3-6 play a qualifying final beforehand.

          • Roar Rookie

            February 24th 2017 @ 2:22pm
            piru said | February 24th 2017 @ 2:22pm | ! Report

            The other opportunity here might be to throw a trans tas women’s comp in as well, sitting alongside the existing men’s sides.

            But now I’m just daydreaming

            • February 25th 2017 @ 5:28am
              BBA said | February 25th 2017 @ 5:28am | ! Report

              There would be a number of problems that your proposal would put forward Fionn.

              NZRU considers playing SA as being essential to AB success (i.e. playing teams with different strengths)

              NZRU does not want 7 professional rugby teams, because it is not considered financially viable

              I do not think playing a trans tasman series will provide as much money as the current model, if that is the case it seems like we will have either less teams or we will lose more players overseas.

              Apart from that seems like a good idea. Just find a solution so that NZ teams can play SA and that there is more money and you are on a winner.

              • Roar Guru

                February 25th 2017 @ 7:02am
                taylorman said | February 25th 2017 @ 7:02am | ! Report

                I’m not so sure how that stands up in the current environment though. South Africa are heading down a road that is becoming less the South Africa in terms of Springbok rugby that we are used to.

                The South Africa we are used to would never lose to Japan or Italy so they’re becoming less the power side that we are familiar with.

                Until that corrects itself, and lord knows how that will be achieved as this transformation into the new South Africa continues, the talk of a parting of ways will probably increase, much to probably everyone’s regret, especially the older amongst us who have seen the good, the bad and the ugly side of SA rugby.

              • Roar Guru

                February 25th 2017 @ 12:33pm
                sheek said | February 25th 2017 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

                Taylorman,

                South Africa probably have a deeper problem than Australia.

                Over there there is a fundamental ideological battle taking place, almost a reverse apartheid.

                All for the sake of the quota system, the Springboks are being dumbed down & also broken down strength wise.

                Sadly, I think the Saffies might become less relevant in rugby as time goes on & the dominant black government couldn’t care less.

              • February 25th 2017 @ 1:10pm
                Rugby Tragic said | February 25th 2017 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

                Sheek, ” ……..if the dominant black government couldn’t care less.. ” then they should move away and let the SARU run themselves.

                In fact your statement … “fundamental ideological battle taking place, almost a reverse apartheid” … rings very true as the ANC appears to be ‘caring very much about destroying the Springboks’ as we know them. I suggest this as to my knowledge the ANC is not contributing towards building or financing for example rugby grounds in the Soweto areas of SA? I believe the answer to that is no (but stand to be corrected) yet they hamper the very organisation that can grow the game.

                Like TM, I am one of the older school who appreciates the history. For the vast majority of South Africans, their preferred code is soccer, the niche that built to be the Springboks as we knew them was as a result of apartheid and the ANC want to destroy that, the quota system, I believe is merely their chosen vehicle.

                SA had Nelson Mandela openly support the Boks in his reconciliation, a smart move that for a time it had all South Africans, irrespective of race, creed or colour supporting the excellence of one of their national teams, a much better way imo to encourage inclusions. Now we have factions.

          • February 26th 2017 @ 3:11pm
            Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | February 26th 2017 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

            I like that Fionn

        • February 25th 2017 @ 4:57pm
          markie362 said | February 25th 2017 @ 4:57pm | ! Report

          The kiwis are not interested in a trans tasman comp.whats in it for them.aus are to weak

          • February 26th 2017 @ 1:31pm
            Jacko said | February 26th 2017 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

            Aus rugby has proven to be a bit of a slag. Happy to hop in to bed when it suits them but will steal your wallet and re-neg on agreements when they get what they want. ( like co hosting a WC for example)

      • February 24th 2017 @ 2:30pm
        Tigranes said | February 24th 2017 @ 2:30pm | ! Report

        I think the main problem with Super rugby being replaced by a Trans Tasman comp is $$$.

        The pay TV market in Australia and NZ is too small to support super rugby, right now South African Pay TV subscribers are supporting the competition. Put it this way, some games between 2 NZ sides have more people watching the game in South Africa than New Zealand.

        Super Rugby doesn’t rate well on Australian TVs. Given the lack of competition in NZ, it should dominate, but NZ only has 4M people, less than Sydney or Melbourne.

        If it did revert to Trans Tasman, you would see a lot of players try to get European club contracts, as the Australian game would revert to being semi-professional.

        • February 24th 2017 @ 2:43pm
          AndyS said | February 24th 2017 @ 2:43pm | ! Report

          That would be the challenge right enough, and why they don’t want to be making it up on the fly. I think it is the main reason why they have introduced Japan in the mix and why they’re maintaining contact with Singapore.

        • February 24th 2017 @ 3:05pm
          Celtic334 said | February 24th 2017 @ 3:05pm | ! Report

          I seriously doubt any effect on revenue streams would be impacted in Aus and NZ.

          a) both NZ and AUS would have more content at prime tv hours = more money offered by Sky and Fox than they currently do, hey maybe even free to air station would be interested
          b) reduced travel costs or in general reduced travel will appease players who are looking for work/family balance
          c) more incentive for sponsors to align with teams, their brand would be more visible due to having once again more content at suitable hours
          d) from an Australian crowd perspective gate takings would be better. As much as i enjoy watching SA teams v Aus teams they traditionally attract the smallest crowds. I cannot comment on a NZ perspective here
          e) A large proportion of the pie comes from Europe. Take the Aus and NZ teams out of the competition and you are left with the Currie Cup. European markets would be more likely to folk out money for an Aus v NZ comp than the Currie Cup.
          f) it would most likely allow for an open market for players between the two countries. You can play in Aus but for NZ and vise versa. I’d even suspect that if wages remained as they are, attraction of South African players looking for work/life balance (as already is the case with thousands of them moving to Aus and NZ) would be interested in playing in the competition.
          g) Masters of our own destiny – in other words we can manipulate the fixture list to suit our very similar cultures. ANZAC day clashes, Independent Bledisloe series from the Rugby Championship, actually playing Sunday games, Monday nights, this all = $

          This obvious is all hypothetical but also just as realistic a result if it happened as it all crashing and burning.

        • February 24th 2017 @ 4:13pm
          kunming tiger said | February 24th 2017 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

          that is the elephant in the room, TV revenue. we don’t operate in a vacuum with a smaller reveue bAse our best players would leave it is precisely why we need SA and Japan and why they accomodated an extra franchise from SA and one from Japan. O’Neill is well aware of these commercial realities so I find it odd that he doesn’t raise them . It is call of a guy wanting some of the limelight by doing a Donald Trump and appealing to the lowest common denominator. One thing we can all agree on it an overhaul is needed the question is how do it that while maximising revenue.

        • February 27th 2017 @ 6:13pm
          lassitude said | February 27th 2017 @ 6:13pm | ! Report

          SA pay subscribers ? I’ve never seen any numbers that support that thesis. And how would it given the ever declining rand value.

      • Roar Guru

        February 24th 2017 @ 3:14pm
        sheek said | February 24th 2017 @ 3:14pm | ! Report

        Fionn,

        The Kiwis don’t want us anywhere near a pseudo national comp with them. Unless of course, they’re so worried about Australian rugby disappearing that they see a Trans-Tasman comp as the only thing to save us.

        • February 24th 2017 @ 3:39pm
          Republican said | February 24th 2017 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

          …….concur sheek.
          Unlike us with our commercial focus that compromises our domestic leagues by including NZ, they value the status they command in Union, way to highly to do that.

          • February 25th 2017 @ 12:13pm
            Jacko said | February 25th 2017 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

            Aus does it because they need NZ in thier comps. In League NZ provides 1 club out of 16 ( 6.25%) yet NZ provide 32% of the NRLs players. BasketBall was done because the comp needed another financially viable team and with Brisbane and GC failing, NZ provided the option. Same with A-League, it was about numbers. Aus has crapped all over NZ over their netball decision, just like they did over the Co-hosting of the 2003 WC, which incidently O’Neil was in charge at the time.NZ rugby comps are strong and dont need your badly administered sport dragging it down

            • February 26th 2017 @ 5:47pm
              Republican said | February 26th 2017 @ 5:47pm | ! Report

              ……rubbish, you flatter yourself Jacko. NZ are altruistic in lining up to be part of our domestic sporting DNA because they know how much we need them, yeah right?
              We do not need NZ while NZ require NO support in Netball or Union and I would also extend this to all other codes these days.
              There are plenty of domestic options that could easily take the place of any of the current NZ sporting entities leeching off this nations misplaced largesse while the Warriors and Phoenix are not exactly compelling cases in supporting your point of view.
              Conversely, Australia have long needed NZ support in Union but as I have often stated, NZ will never reciprocate.
              No need to remind you that your are a sovereign nation that is far superior than we are in every way, well thats what you keep telling us ad nauseum so surely it is the right time to begin building your own domestic leagues.

              • February 27th 2017 @ 11:40pm
                Johnno said | February 27th 2017 @ 11:40pm | ! Report

                We have booted the kiwi teams from out Netball comp, the Nix are on the way out in the A-league, there failing to mer the licensing standards set by the FFA e.g. crowds/revenue etc, plus NZ is not an AFC soccer nation, a real bug bearer and rightly so for the AFC.

            • February 26th 2017 @ 5:56pm
              Republican said | February 26th 2017 @ 5:56pm | ! Report

              …….the %’s in League you have ref here, are exactly why a NZ presence in that code is hurting the GR here in this country.
              You have in fact reinforced my very rationale for not including NZ in our domestic leagues and none moreso than in RL.

      • Roar Rookie

        February 24th 2017 @ 5:41pm
        Die hard said | February 24th 2017 @ 5:41pm | ! Report

        I think it wishful thinking Fion. You only have to look at NZ rugby logic to see this. They are treating the company as a tool for the all blacks and need the diversity SA being to the contest. The Aussie teams don’t often offer the required game to further develop the NZ game especially in the right.

        Apart from that their is a fair dose of animosity towards some treatment from Australia starting from when Jon took over the rwc hosting rights up until clown gate and the continued player poaching.

        I think never more likely to ever is the case.

    • Roar Guru

      February 24th 2017 @ 1:25pm
      Atawhai Drive said | February 24th 2017 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

      Sheek, this is not a cheap shot, but with reference to the fourth-last paragraph of your excellent piece, don’t we have the NRC?

      • Roar Guru

        February 24th 2017 @ 2:01pm
        Kaks said | February 24th 2017 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

        Maybe Sheek forgot about it, I know I do..

      • Roar Guru

        February 24th 2017 @ 3:19pm
        sheek said | February 24th 2017 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

        Hi Atawhai,

        i know your question is sincere.

        No, NRC is not the answer in its current format. Part of the problem is that you don’t need both a super rugby & NRC.

        But that’s just my opinion.

        Of course, how you tailor a national comp would determine the characteristic of teams involved.

        A national comp one day with four Sydney based teams, say Sydney Waratahs, North Harbour Rays, West Sydney Rams & East Sydney Fleet, just as an example, would draw teams that were previously from super rugby, NRC & ARC.

        But that’s just an example, & not necessarily my own most preferred option.

        • February 25th 2017 @ 12:17pm
          Jacko said | February 25th 2017 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

          4 Sydney teams in a national comp? How national is that? Unless its a 20 team comp that seems way to Sydney-Centric

    • Columnist

      February 24th 2017 @ 1:46pm
      Geoff Parkes said | February 24th 2017 @ 1:46pm | ! Report

      Thanks Sheek, very considered as always.

      Not sure if JON is able to explain how, if he wasn’t able to get Super Rugby onto free to air under his watch, why it should be possible now?

      The thing about SANZAAR is that the ARU seemingly can’t live with it, but nor can it live without it. It’s a very delicate problem.

      It is possible to keep SANZAAR for the Rugby Championship, but go separate ways for domestic rugby. Or a trans-tasman comp. No question that will be one of the models being considered. But that would come with a massive reduction in revenue for the ARU, and a consequent impediment to retaining leading players for whatever competition replaced SR.

      Make no mistake, the Top14 and English Premiership are getting stronger and stronger financially, and the salaries are heading further northwards. Local players will continue to test their value in these markets.

      There are no simple solutions here.

      • Roar Guru

        February 24th 2017 @ 3:24pm
        sheek said | February 24th 2017 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

        Geoff,

        The current model is failing Australian rugby in particular. I can’t speak for the other countries. So something different must be tried & I agree with JON on this, it’s time for Australian rugby to be selfish if it wishes to survive.

        I still say a northern hemisphere structure modelled on & modified to suit southern hemisphere needs is the way to go. That is, enclosed national comps leading into a Champions Cup (super rugby element) leading into Rugby Championship.

        Australian rugby is going to have to take a hit, that is, move a step backwards before progressing again, no matter which path they choose.

        • February 24th 2017 @ 3:42pm
          Republican said | February 24th 2017 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

          …..indeed.
          Currently I believe Australian Rugby are trying to have their Lamington & eat it too…….

        • February 24th 2017 @ 4:19pm
          kunming tiger said | February 24th 2017 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

          There is a difference between taking a hit and getting KOed. It’s a rock and a hard place.

      • February 24th 2017 @ 3:39pm
        ClarkeG said | February 24th 2017 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

        The Top14 and English Premiership are certainly threats to the quality of player playing in Super Rugby.

        Luatua’s agent, Craig Innes, recently described the package from Bristol, a club that could quite possibly be attempting to play it’s way out of English Rugby 2nd Division next season, as life changing.

        Luatua himself described the difference between the Bristol offer and what NZR could offer as “night and day”.

        • Columnist

          February 24th 2017 @ 4:47pm
          Geoff Parkes said | February 24th 2017 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

          Exactly.

          There’s another signing that I’m aware of, to be announced in the next week or so that will surprise and hurt fans. And another international who in the end didn’t take up an offer, but came very close – somebody who people would have thought no chance of even considering going north.

          The offers will only keep getting higher and for all the talk about work/life balance above, players will start accepting them in bigger numbers. Test players, still playing test rugby who will give that up – more and more players like Piutau, Luatua, Faumuina, Cruden, Toomua, Genia and even younger. Current players, not guys on a pension plan trip.

          What people have to realise is that it isn’t simply about cutting a team here or there to fix super rugby and everything’s sweet. Sure SR needs fixing, the structure is a mess. But the real issue for rugby in this part of the world is money. Without it, Australia and NZ will effectively become feeder nations for the northern club competitions, with decent enough but low level professional competitions. And where the best players only get released for a number of test matches during defined windows.

          Sheek contends that it’s not so bad for Australia to take a step back and rebuild from there. i understand that idea. But i think that a step back will quickly become a permanent concession to the north, and there is no coming back from that.

          That would be like getting off the property ladder in Sydney and Auckland for a couple of years and then trying to buy back in. Basically impossible.

        • Roar Guru

          February 25th 2017 @ 9:26am
          taylorman said | February 25th 2017 @ 9:26am | ! Report

          As is the quality of rugby he’ll be moving into. Second div in England? Geez… it is bad.
          Like going from the Blues to Poverty Bay (no offence to PBers of course).

        • February 25th 2017 @ 12:36pm
          Jacko said | February 25th 2017 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

    • February 24th 2017 @ 1:46pm
      grapeseed said | February 24th 2017 @ 1:46pm | ! Report

      O’Neil, Sheek, Not Bothered, the Ghost of Scott Allen and everyone else in Australian rugby knows that the problem is free to air TV coverage.

      Niche products can be sold via Danoz Direct on late night TV for a while, but the moment they start to become popular or a like product comes out, they have to hit the supermarket shelves.

      An accessible market place is a cornerstone of customer growth. Imagine if you had to pay to go into Coles or to log on to Amazon? You would simply go to Woolies or buy stuff on jet.com.

      Foxtel has been increadibly supportive of rugby, but in a way that is becoming slowly suffocating. It is like selling products in a shop, where the building is owned by a supportive landlord who gives you discounted rent.

      It’s great at first, but then the highway gets moved, a super centre is built up the road, and eventually the only customers who come to the shop are those who are prepared to go out of their way because they’re already loyal.

      Rugby needs to raise capital or go into debt in order to break free of this artificially small market (2 million Foxtel subscribers out of 9 million Aussie households).

      It needs to start allowing walk ins, window shoppers, browsers and opportunists to come along and inspect the product.

      We botched the last negotiation because we lacked a long term vision. Time to generate the nine figures required to move out of Mum and Dad’s basement.

      • Roar Rookie

        February 24th 2017 @ 1:55pm
        piru said | February 24th 2017 @ 1:55pm | ! Report

        That’s so well put it’s scary.

        Well said

        • February 24th 2017 @ 2:15pm
          ads2600 said | February 24th 2017 @ 2:15pm | ! Report

          Agreed Piru, nice work grapeseed.?

      • February 24th 2017 @ 2:55pm
        Dave_S said | February 24th 2017 @ 2:55pm | ! Report

        I’m not so sure about it being a simple numbers game, grapeseed. Of course there is more potential for growth in interest in FTA land, but don’t assume it would be actually watched outside the rugby heartland any more than it is now. At the moment every Fox sports subscriber can watch every game, regardless of where they are. That wouldn’t happen if it were on FTA. Pretty sure that (say) Ch 10 in Melb would only show the Rebels games and quite possibly not live. In country Vic they might not show it at all. It’s a guess but I would bet money that at least half of Victorian rugby watchers support a team other than the Rebels (because they’re originally from NZ or up north)

        • February 24th 2017 @ 6:00pm
          grapeseed said | February 24th 2017 @ 6:00pm | ! Report

          Good point Dave, all I would say is that FTA vs Foxtel is not an either/or proposition. NRL and AFL are viewable on FTA and Foxtel, including the Foxtel Play platforms, and various other digital streaming platforms.

          The philosophy is simply increasing market exposure, and therefore market share.

          To do this, we need to review the 275 million dollar deal made a year ago, which is actually already a combined Foxtel FTA deal with Channel 10 picking up a replay game each week, and renegotiating it down to a less restrictive $125 million deal.

          Believe me, Foxtel don’t want an exodus of rugby customers, as their surveys tell them that there’s 200 000 people out there who have subscriptions primarily because of Rugby, so they would accept a 50% loss of viewers if it only resulted in a 15% drop in subscriptions, especially if it was reducing their own expenditure by $100 million or more.

          This means we need to find $150 million, which could be done any number of ways. I would certainly invest in a restructure that gave me equity in Australian Rugby, providing I had a shareholder’s rights, and that it was led by the right people.

          The model would essentially be that the ARU would be subsidising the broadcasts in lieu of poor ad revenues resulting from initially low viewership, with the goal that this cost is an investment in increasing viewership and therefore lower the subsidy over time.

          It would take someone with an entrepreneurial mindset rather than the type of straight CEO mold of a Pulver or even an O’Neil to do this. This is more a Frank Lowy type move.

          • February 24th 2017 @ 7:16pm
            Dave_S said | February 24th 2017 @ 7:16pm | ! Report

            Yep I your point grapeseed.

            • February 24th 2017 @ 7:31pm
              Dave_S said | February 24th 2017 @ 7:31pm | ! Report

              … I see …

            • Roar Guru

              February 24th 2017 @ 9:48pm
              sheek said | February 24th 2017 @ 9:48pm | ! Report

              Thanks Grapeseed,

              food for thought there…..

              • February 25th 2017 @ 12:42pm
                Jacko said | February 25th 2017 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

                But there is no live FTA in NZ anyway. Its on Sky Rugby channel

              • February 25th 2017 @ 12:56pm
                grapeseed said | February 25th 2017 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

                Yep, and more than 50% of NZ households have Sky (900,000 of 1.5 million) as opposed to Australia and fox (2 million Foxsports subscribers of 9 million households).

                The concept is correlating market exposure and accessibility with market share.

              • February 26th 2017 @ 1:35pm
                Jacko said | February 26th 2017 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

                So make Foxtel affordable in Aus then?

              • February 26th 2017 @ 3:29pm
                Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | February 26th 2017 @ 3:29pm | ! Report

                Jacko you are ignoring the cultural differences between OZ and NZ fans.
                Rugby here is the Invisible Code. It is not in common language. AFL dominated zones dont know that there are 2 rugby codes.
                We are currently running a slow fourth and visibility is key.
                It has little to do with cost of Foxtel but rather that a viwer has to pay at all.
                Personally i believe hope lies in giggle tournaments like the 10’s and the 7’s, giggle in that the general punter knows about them (because they are more easily promoted) and can turn up and follow the simpler laws.
                These may be small but important thin edges to wedge some attention from the masses.
                Grapeseed well put.

              • February 26th 2017 @ 3:37pm
                grapeseed said | February 26th 2017 @ 3:37pm | ! Report

                Jacko, unfortunately that’s not how free market economics works.

          • February 25th 2017 @ 2:30pm
            AJ said | February 25th 2017 @ 2:30pm | ! Report

            Yet Foxtel choose to advise us of a price increase in the first week of Super Rugby….very cynical timing

      • Roar Guru

        February 24th 2017 @ 3:26pm
        sheek said | February 24th 2017 @ 3:26pm | ! Report

        I agree grapeseed,

        No free-to-sir TV coverage is a slow death.

        Perhaps at the moment it’s a good thing that most Aussie sports fans can’t see top level Australian rugby because its mostly rubbish.

        But one day we’ll have good players again & hopefully they’ll be seen by more people than just those with pay-TV access!

        • Roar Guru

          February 25th 2017 @ 9:40am
          taylorman said | February 25th 2017 @ 9:40am | ! Report

          That’s a very good point. Oz have had much better quality players in the past, and will again.
          I think there’s a danger in now looking for solutions that all dance around that fact.

          As with the Field of Dreams motto, build it and they will come. Focus on producing a better standard of player by doing whatever that takes. Take on the status quo, the sport of choice amongst the young and use the top players to push that agenda. Get out and do more than the AFL or Leaguies do.

          One anecdote is that regular slot on the footy show where the Big Marn quizzes those kids who are proudly dressed in their uniforms. It paints a picture of League being good to its younger generation and the show gets close to the people, the average Joe supporter on the street.

          Union doesn’t seem to have that same image in oz, not that I’d know but I’ve a feeling that’s probably the case.

          Grass roots is the foundation of any thriving sport.

      • February 24th 2017 @ 7:53pm
        AndyS said | February 24th 2017 @ 7:53pm | ! Report

        I agree on a general level GS, but having the sport on FTA is neither an end in itself or even adequate. Netball was on the ABC for years, as has been the Shute Shield. Channel One shows all manner of minor sports, and no-one really cares. It is not enough to just have it on FTA, the broadcaster has to buy into the product and get behind it.

        The new deal for netball is a game changer not because it gives them FTA, but because it will be relentlessly promoted by Nine, reported on their news, in the papers and on their website, etc. It has always been how it works, from the original WSC through to the BBL. It is the wall-of-sound sales job that does the trick, almost regardless of the actual quality of the product. It is what stands behind the AFL and NRL, it is certainly what we need, but it takes two to do that dance.

        • February 24th 2017 @ 8:24pm
          grapeseed said | February 24th 2017 @ 8:24pm | ! Report

          Agreed. My point is that Rugby needs capital investment through any mechanism (apart from government co-investment, which would introduce the least innovative people into the picture) in order to change directions. A wall of sound is just about money and mutual interest, in the investment sense.

          The ARU is illiquid, with their main asset being brand and goodwill, and cash flow being both seasonal and cyclical.

          Recapitalise, reorganise, break or break through. If the ARU went to a media group and sold an enduring interest in rugby for a pittance, the media group would have enormous incentive to build the brand and viewership in a low risk environment, with rewards being proportionally greater.

          Bill Pulver should not just be on a salary, but earning 75% of his income through dividends.

          • February 25th 2017 @ 8:04am
            concerned supporter said | February 25th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

            @grapeseed,
            A very interesting post. You are correct about the ARU needing to recapitalize.But can they, or will they do it?
            They have their Strategic Plan 2016-2020 in its infancy.They can scrap it but financially would they?They are receiving Broadcasting Rights Income of $57 M a year for those 5 years.They must replace this $57 M income.
            Recapitalize?Currently, the ARU has no shareholders as we know it.It consists of Members & Affiliates.
            The members are :
            ACT 2 votes
            NSW + Waratahs 3 votes
            QRU 3 votes
            Vic + Mel Rebels 2 votes
            WA 2 votes
            SA 1 vote
            NT 1 vote
            RU Players Association 1 vote
            TOTAL 16 votes
            Affiliates have no voting rights.
            The ARU has no Issued or Paid Up Capital like most Companies.They would need to reconstruct their Constitution to go forward with your suggestions, Grapeseed. Not impossible, but would they forsake their current $57 M,? They were on the brink of insolvency as at 31 December 2015, being the date of their last published Financial Statements.

            • February 25th 2017 @ 11:43am
              grapeseed said | February 25th 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

              Yes CS, you get exactly what I am saying.

              To effectively be able to capitalise the brand and good will associated with the existing Australian Rugby infrastructure, they would need to migrate to a new model. There would be a number of significant tax, organisational and operational implications in doing this.

              But they need to do it as the ARU does not own “rugby union” as a product in Australia, nor do the constituent members. I could start a rugby competition tomorrow and they would not be able to stop me, and I am pretty sure I could gain the sanction of governing authorities outside of Australia with a bit of grease.

              If I raised half a billion, I could poach all of the best players and coaches, put 150 million directly into schools and choke off the legacy system’s pathways, and build a competition to rival the current model. Sure this would likely end up in mutual destruction, because the object is to compete against other codes in the market, not each other. But I could do it.

              So I say that instead the ARU embraces a model of public ownership and stops this investment anemia that sees a few articles, a few ads and the odd Sunday replay do the rounds in the open market.

              Many organisations go through this, and what I see in Australia is a great product that is unfortunately in a kind of 2 steps forward, 2.01 steps back momentum when compared to like codes.

      • February 25th 2017 @ 8:13am
        BBA said | February 25th 2017 @ 8:13am | ! Report

        Foxtel certainly needs to do some deal so that one game a week is on FTA, you would think that would not hurt Foxtel. Foxtel is still there for the serious rugby fans but gets exposure and a chance to grow the fan base who may then want to subscribe to Foxtel to get the other matches.

    • February 24th 2017 @ 1:52pm
      Republican said | February 24th 2017 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

      Clearly the current Super Rugby structure is unsustainable because it is geographically impracticable, having been allowed to expand prematurely.
      Australian Super entities should not be scapegoated for what I see essentially a stretch the resources to its limits caused by adding both Japan and Argentina to the mix – at the same time.
      That said, I do believe that Australian Rugby is between a rock and a hard place in respect of growth since the status of the code here does not warrant 5 teams yet, in order to remain competitive in this very competitive and arguably saturated footy market, Union does need to take the game to non traditional domestic markets if it is to survive in this country.
      Damed if they do, damed if they don’t really.

      • February 25th 2017 @ 12:51pm
        Jacko said | February 25th 2017 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

        So its someone else’s fault?

        Look at your administration very closly before blaming someone else. Your admin pays themselves massive amounts in wages and ignores grass roots rugby…..Have a CLOSE look

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