Australian rugby. Another week, another board meeting, another member of the executive departs. This one before he’d even signed on the dotted line.
Emails are leaked. Journalists swarm and the rugby community shakes their collective head once more.
I’m not sure I can add any further insight into what’s going on right now in rugby headquarters. Only those in the tent can tell that tale, and even then the reports coming out of this depressing corporate melodrama suggest even the directors, administration and ex-players couldn’t tell you the way forward.
As a fan, which is all I am and all that I can offer, I want to make something fundamentally clear: I’m not going anywhere. They could put Rugby Australia into administration, tear down the Moore Park office and turn it into a car park and we could lose half of our talent to the deep pockets of European and Japanese rugby dons, but I’m still not going anywhere.
The one positive I keep coming back to is that I’m not alone. Websites, blogs and social media are proof that we’re still here, battered and dismayed but not gone. Some 40,000 of us made the trek to Japan last year to see the Wallabies take part in a grand spectacle despite knowing in our hearts we’d be lucky to come out of the pool stage on top.
As of 2018 figures, 271,922 players are registered to play rugby in this country, or 477,031 if you include the participation numbers. The amateur game will not die. No-one can take that away from us.
There is another sporting team in history that no-one can take away either. More specifically in a geographical sense. The Green Bay Packers are one of the most successful franchises in the National Football League. The Packers were founded in 1919 but experienced financial trouble very early in their existence. Rather than lose their place in the national professional league and dismantle the club, a group of businessmen banded together and kept the Packers solvent by incorporating the team, selling shares to the public and creating a board of directors elected by the shareholders.
As of 2020 the Green Bay Packers are owned by 360,760 stockholders.
If you’re a rugby fan in this country, you’re already investing in the game, whether it be registration fees, new kit, the cost of travelling to training and games or even the larger expenses of supporter membership fees, ticket prices, merchandise and broadcast subscriptions. Add to that the expense of travelling interstate or overseas to watch the Wallabies play and you are forking out well into the thousands of dollars every year.
So what if you could pay to own the Wallabies?
When the Packers made shares available in 1923 they were $5 – around $75 in today’s value. Their last stock offer in 2011 went for $250 a share. What would you pay to part-own the Wallabies?
Rugby has seen something like this before. In 2017 the Western Force launched their ‘Own the Force’ campaign to give the club a much-needed capital boost and display to Rugby Australia how committed its membership base was, all in a bid to prevent the club from being removed from the Super Rugby competition. It didn’t work, but the club still remains alive thanks to the efforts and chequebook of Andrew Forrest.
But it remains an interesting concept, especially in view of Australian rugby’s dire financial status. Just how much it is in the red remains to be seen. The records are reported to still be with auditors. Yet what is clear is the poor governance, muddy oversight and general lack of communication on how the professional game is run has become farcical. There seems to be a lot of outcry at the board and “morons” at Rugby Australia, yet we as fans hardly do anything beyond hand-wringing and screaming at our keyboards.
So how about something tangible? Shall we try and take back the Wallabies? Give ourselves the power to vote in an executive group that we truly believe can bring about the change our code sorely needs? Can we become a collective voice that doesn’t just point fingers at faceless board directors but elects them at an annual general meeting?
If 40,000 Australians travelled to Japan last year to watch the Wallabies, what if 40,000 Australians all paid $1000 just like the Western Force tried to achieve in 2017? Our ‘Own the Wallabies’ campaign would create $40 million, a figure not far off what the Rugby Australia netted after hosting the successful 2003 Rugby World Cup. All of a sudden we’re not solely dependant on that cash boost from a Lions tour in 2025 or the hotly anticipated World Cup bid in 2027. Let’s face it: in today’s uncertain times are either of those events a guarantee?
Own the Wallabies. Think about it. Discuss it. Let’s see if it has legs. If not, we go back to the drawing board and continue to put our hopes in the hands of a small number of bankers, ex-players and media executives.
But ask yourself: are you ready to put your money where your mouths and hearts are? I am.