I’m a rugby fan. I grew up playing the game. My kids play and I help out where I can at my local rugby club.
I recently watched a short SBS clip pondering whether rugby is dying. The challenges faced by rugby in Australia in 2017 have been well-chronicled on these pages with a whole range of suggestions on how to fix things. Our results in Saturday night’s Bledisloe Cup do not help.
Indeed, the greatest thing about rugby in Australia right now is the grassroots and yet it is the area most fans are aggrieved with the ARU about their lack of involvement.
I got along to Rat Park in Sydney on Saturday afternoon and at the Shute Shield semi-final between Manly and Warringah and saw so many things to like about rugby and its inherent tribalism and enjoyment. The game day experience beats anything put forward in Super Rugby or even Test Matches.
Bill Pulver, Michael Cheika and many others talk about data and KPIs. They talk about how professional game is best served by understanding the stats on our players and how they perform. I’ve looked at this focus on data underpinning the professional game and see a golden opportunity for an incoming ARU CEO to re-engage the grassroots, and build the kind of dataset that any sport in the world would envy.
I’ve been involved in administering junior rugby and the hours of effort put in by thousands of volunteers deserve admiration. The ARU can invest in technology that helps the game at junior, school and senior levels while also delivering the kind of data they want for the professional game.
So how do you do it?
We need to do what successful companies are doing globally – invest in technology and data. In particular, I think the ARU should be collaborating with some of the countries best and most successful technology minds (anyone heard of Atlassian?) who create amazing collaboration tools. As their website notes “tools for teams, from startup to enterprise. Atlassian provides the tools to help every team unleash their full potential.”
I use them as an example, but literally, we have thousands of successful companies filled with former rugby players or parents with kids playing.
Every club struggles with how to manage communication with their various teams. We use disparate apps (think Team App, Team Stuff, Teamer, Fuse Sport) plus emails, spreadsheets, documents, websites and of course engagement with registration systems mostly administered by the state unions.
All of this leads to duplication, effort and a constant reinvention of the wheel.
Imagine this scenario instead: the ARU collaborates with a technology partner or partners to build a new solution for rugby.
What would you build?
How about allowing registrations online in a simple fashion that flows to a club and allows a club administrator to allocate players to individual teams.
Other administrators set up the draw for the competition knowing exact team numbers by age group and once published, players and parents instantly have access to the draw on their mobile device. All the heartache in pre-season and mid-season shuffling is resolved and this could be done across juniors, schools and seniors.
This approach also means the ARU knows how many people are playing rugby at any time – regular competition or one-off games. They can readily identify areas of participation and focus the efforts of development officers.
Do we want to focus on skills around specific positions? How about the ARU engages directly with online skills training for every registered scrum-half in the country, all by clicking one or two buttons?
To the question of how the ARU can engage the grassroots and make their lives easier. How about a technology solution that reduces administration, allows for the posting and sharing of administration documents, training drills and creates an online community reflective of the rugby community in Australia.
Want some other benefits?
What about knowing how many volunteers you have, what they do and how much time they contribute? By assigning roles to volunteers you all of a sudden broaden the net and can see the inherent value played by those not taking a payment but simply engaged for the love of the game.
This creates opportunities for new partnerships – Qantas sits on our Wallaby jersey. What about a loyalty program for volunteers that rewards those who contribute most with Frequent Flyer points? Giving back to those who give most to rugby.
There is a huge opportunity in this for the ARU to show some leadership. All they need is a little courage and to look beyond professional rugby.
Brett Papworth keeps saying we need to build the foundation of the pyramid. How about empowering it with technology that makes it easier to administer and enjoy than ever before while also delivering the richest data that any sports administration has ever seen?
It’s 2017 folks, all of this is achievable all we need to leadership and engagement.