Australian rugby is in dire straits and there is serious doubt whether the game can survive in its current form.
From a financial perspective, operating costs have grown and the three primary revenue streams are all under pressure.
• Broadcast revenue (because overall TV ratings and in particular rugby ratings are down and so is advertising spend)
• Ticket sales (because match attendances have dropped)
• Sponsorship (because fans are turning away from rugby and key partners such as Qantas have been smashed by COVID)
From a fan’s perspective, both Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship have become stale, the calendar lacks logic and there is no meaningful link between the grassroots and the Wallabies.
From a organisational perspective, there is no evidence of alignment and little capacity for effective decision-making or strategic planning.
Plotting a second-half comeback
All is not lost however. Regardless of how bad things seem, rugby isn’t going away. Schools and clubs will continue to play, Wallabies will continue to wear gold jerseys and fans will continue to argue on Twitter.
There are three concrete factors that give confidence in rugby’s resilience and potential:
• While small, the Australian rugby community is very passionate
• Rugby continues to have support among Australia’s corporate heavyweights
• Internationally, rugby is booming
Plan of attack
To survive, Australian rugby needs to solve three problems:
• Balancing the books
• Re-engaging fans
• Re-structuring how the game is organised
None of these problems are insurmountable, but they do require a plan that addresses all three, rather than just focusing on one and hoping the others take care of themselves. Over the next nine days, I’ll lay out what I would do across nine posts, breaking down the key issues and proposing a range of solutions.
Balancing the books
• Reducing the cost base
• Protecting and growing revenue
• Fixing the calendar
• Winning more games
• Fixing the game itself
• Overhauling media strategy
• Overhauling governance model
• Strengthening ties within the game
• Encouraging private ownership
Relatively little of what I am proposing is original — it’s an integration lots of ideas that are already being discussed. What I do think is unique is that most people are focused on fixing specific issues within Australian rugby, and none present a holistic view of how all the different bits and pieces might fit together. Hopefully, what I’m proposing fills this void.
My solution is by no means perfect, and I’d love to hear criticisms, so please have a read in the coming days, give it some thought and let me know what you think — starting with how to reduce operating costs tomorrow.