The numbers are in.
They don’t look great for the blazer brigade’s plan to turn their backs on what the Australian rugby community want, and instead, put a knife into Super Rugby AU and expand the Trans-Tasman tournament.
The Super Rugby AU final between Queensland and ACT Brumbies attracted more than 400,000 Australian viewers.
In comparison, the Trans-Tasman final between the poorly branded Blues (not sure where they are from) and a hillside team from Scotland achieved only 70,000 Australian viewers – and most of them were probably ex-pat Kiwis.
Let’s face it. Playing the Kiwis is a sideshow for Australian sports fans. The Trans-Tasman just doesn’t resonate with Australians the way a national footy competition does. The main footy game in Australia is mate versus mate.
The cold hard facts of the matter are, if I’m Nine, I’m shaking my head at anyone brave or stupid enough to walk into my office proposing less AU and more TT in 2022.
Where do you think the money is, I would ask them. With the 400,000 or the 70,000?
And which tournament costs the most to run?
The cat is out of the bag. The more games we play of TT, the higher our costs. Also, with smaller TV audiences the value of Australian broadcast rights will be lower going forward, exasperating RA’s financial woes.
That my friends, is the commercial lesson from AU thrashing TT on Australian TV screens.
How quickly we forget, after 25 years of Super Rugby’s intercontinental flying circus, that Australian rugby was on its death bed. The pandemic has intervened. We’ve had two experimental seasons of AU. Although the naysayers said it would never work, it quickly culminated in 42,000 at Suncorp Stadium and 400,000 Australians watching on TV as Queensland were crowned only the second-ever All-Australian rugby champion in our 122-year rugby history.
What great moments. What great TV. What optimism flowed through the game. Temporarily of course, until TT beat the living daylights out of Australian rugby’s green positivity sprouts.
It’s actually paramount to commercial suicide to suggest increasing exposure to TT while knifing AU.
Rugby Australia ought to be asking its stakeholders: what’s the minimum number of TT games we can get away with to appease the high-performance needs without losing too many casual Aussie sports fans and destroying the value of our broadcast agreement?
And they should also ask themselves this: what could AU become?
Isn’t it awesome that SuperW added a sixth team, a President’s XV? That’s a great initiative. Let’s do that for the men as well. Three games per weekend. Nice. And let’s increase the finals series to three games by including two semis. Great for the broadcaster.
Of course, getting two Aussie teams in the TT final would guarantee the biggest Australian TV audience of all. But what are the chances of that?
Need I remind you AU can deliver an All Australian final every single season? Guaranteed.
Some say the standard of rugby isn’t high enough. Instead of giving up, shouldn’t we be asking what we need to do to lift the level of competition across Super Rugby AU so it does meet our high-performance needs?
For those who want to shotgun my argument to catastrophes like not playing New Zealand at all, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying the commercial writing is on the wall. TT is not appealing to Australian audiences – and I agree we should still play the Kiwis for high-performance reasons – but how much can we afford?
Rugby Australia should make informed commercial decision validated by the data. The numbers tell us Rugby Australia laid an AU golden egg that resonates with Australian sports fans.
Those who oppose a national competition are in denial.
Finally, what format should our Australian national competition take: AU, NRC or both?
Actually, I don’t mind. The important thing is we get a commitment to a stand-alone national competition because at this point, we do not have that at all.