Rugby Australia are living well beyond their means.
RA lost $27.1 million in 2020 and $9.5 million in 2019. We have to go back to 2018 to see a modest $5.2 million profit.
They have debt plus interest of about $65 million due by 2025. The mooted private equity deal promises a temporary reprieve at the cost of future revenues.
At the rate that losses and debt are being racked up, any PE money will be spent very quickly and what will we have to show for it?
The big driver of cost for the code is Super Rugby, and I think we have to ask: is the cost worth it?
In 2020, about 40 per cent of Rugby Australia’s cost base was attributed to Super Rugby teams costs, funding and player payments, totalling about $35.4 million.
These are almost entirely Super Rugby costs. Wallabies match payments were a fraction of the total, something like $2 million.
This group of costs is larger than our broadcast revenue, which is mostly for the Wallabies anyway.
In the past there have been various arguments why we needed Super. The No.1 reason? Overseas competitions didn’t prepare our Wallabies well enough.
Will Skelton, Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Kurtley Beale have all delivered improved performances for the Wallabies while playing overseas. Is it the case that offshore can now do a better job?
We have to consider that Super Rugby is over in the blink of an eye. Our developing players are lucky to manage 12 games a season.
Liam Wright is a year and a day older than Cameron Woki. Wright has played 40 matches for the Reds, Woki has 87 for Bordeaux.
Super Rugby just doesn’t have enough matches.
It doesn’t have a competition-wide draft or salary cap, letting a group of teams dominate and making it predictable.
I regularly tune in to matches out of a sense of duty, to see if my side can improve, rather than being excited about my team’s chances and looking forward to a great game.
If that is how a diehard, rusted-on supporter watches, then no wonder overall viewer and attendance numbers have fallen as far as they have.
The drop in viewer numbers impacts attendance, broadcast and sponsorship revenue at the same time that salary pressure has rocketed.
We are increasingly losing our top talents like Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Tolu Latu, Rory Arnold, Will Skelton, Sean McMahon, Quade Cooper, Marika Koroibete, Samu Kerevi, Kurtley Beale and Luke Morahan.
Many of our brightest prospects are only contracted until the Rugby World Cup next year, what chance of huge money offers for Angus Bell and Taniela Tupou?
With Rob Valetini, Rob Leota, Harry Wilson and Lachlan Swinton seemingly in a four-way battle for just two jerseys, what chance one or more of them takes a big offshore offer?
Will Rob Kemeny and Tim Anstee stick around or follow Isi Naisarani and Pat Tafa offshore?
Both our best and the guys not quite there are being recruited by overseas clubs. Without them we will only fall further behind New Zealand under current Super Rugby structures.
For me, it’s clear: we pay more than we have while failing to retain the players we need to be competitive.
Super Rugby is broken.
Australia needs a 10-12 team competition. There needs to be a full home-and-away regular season with competition-wide control mechanisms such as a draft and/or salary cap.
If New Zealand and the Pacific Island teams want to be part of that, then great. If they don’t, we need to set our own path.
We need to keep only the players we can afford and have them compete at an appropriate level. The best of these and the players overseas will do the Wallabies proud.
If we can create a compelling competition, then viewer numbers will rise and we can spend more and keep better players on shore to play in it. That follows the viewers, it doesn’t lead them.
Rugby Australia have committed to two years of Super Rugby Pacific, the work needs to be going in now to see what professional rugby looks like in this country from 2024 onwards.