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Oliver Matthews

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Joined September 2013

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Olly loves a chat about all sorts of sport including rugby, NRL, AFL, cricket and basically anything with a ball! He's especially interested in the stories behind the on field performances and loves to explore the impact of things such as leadership, data and technology in sport. Having recently moved to Australia he's got more involved in producing content for The Roar's rugby, football and cricket coverage.

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It’s an interesting question. I wonder if an investor will be able to invest in one specific club in a centralised model?

It might make it more attractive for a large PE house to invest in the sport overall though as they could do a deal with RA knowing that RA and they can agree an approach that RE then have the ability to roll out to all the clubs and the competition.

'We're absolutely committed': RA chief reveals plan to centralise control of Super Rugby clubs

In Ireland, rugby is the third or fourth most popular sport behind Gaelic football, hurling and soccer.

GAA players are not paid so aren’t professional in that sense of the word but they do earn from endorsements and the sport itself generated over $117 million in revenue in 2019 so it certainly covers off the commercial aspects of being a professional sport.

Are you saying that in a centralised sporting league, fans of a club aren’t as passionate or dedicated to their club as they would be in a decentralised system?

'We're absolutely committed': RA chief reveals plan to centralise control of Super Rugby clubs

In terms of what powers are being taken away from the clubs – it looks like they will no longer have sole control over key staff appointments and player deals.
That’s a big deal and might well be hard for the clubs to swallow. But what’s the alternative? Keep going the same way as before and gradually become less and less relevant in the Australian sporting landscape?
Just because it worked in Ireland and New Zealand doesn’t mean it will work in Australia. However there are some important pros to it and the current approach isn’t working well enough so things have to change.
I’m a bit worried that the plans haven’t yet spoken of how deep they will go in terms of impact and believe that the long term success of the sport in Australia is going to require some big changes at the lower levels and the pathways that need to be created for talent. Without those, any new approach won’t be able to succeed long term.

'We're absolutely committed': RA chief reveals plan to centralise control of Super Rugby clubs

I haven’t seen any comments from any of the clubs yet but there are two points I’ve noted.

One the RA have said that they have the support of the Super Rugby clubs to go down this centralisation route.
Two if they hadn’t got it, then I’d assume that the clubs would have come out already and said “Er no you don’t!”

As always though – the devil is in the detail and there’s still plenty of detail to negotiate and pin down.

I’d assume that the clubs are waiting until more of this negotiation has taken place before they start commenting. My bet is that the clubs have said that they are open to the concept of centralisation but that they are not signing up to anything until the nuance has been agreed.

I can also imagine there have been some frank discussions where RA and the clubs have talked about the fact that if they don’t try something different then they are in serious trouble.

No single club seems to have the ability to attract big investment or sponsorship and even if they did, there’s not much value in being the only club that survives in a competition that has died.

So the mentality could well be “We don’t like this idea of losing control, but we like the idea of not existing even less, so let’s keep talking”

'We're absolutely committed': RA chief reveals plan to centralise control of Super Rugby clubs

I agree but I don’t think anyone is blindly accepting their PR here in this discussion.

I think the proposal to centralise the sport is a good step as I think it will lead to a better and more consistent standard of quality across all Super Rugby sides and it’ll lead to an improved Wallabies set up.

I think that the centralisation model needs to be combined with big investment to help address other problem aspects. Centralisation will help with some aspects of keeping players from moving overseas, but being able to have a big bank account will help with other parts of that challenge.

The approach has worked in places like Ireland where rugby has to compete with other very popular sports such as Gaelic football, hurling and soccer and there’s a lot to like about it.

As always though – the idea is one thing. The execution is quite another and so it’ll be crucial to see the details of the model that come out over the coming weeks and then how the plan is implemented in the coming years.

I think it can work. I think it’s a step in the right direction.

'We're absolutely committed': RA chief reveals plan to centralise control of Super Rugby clubs

AFL Commission has some good elements to it and they’ve got a lot of things right especially in terms of how they engage with communities and are trying to spread the game amongst schools in different areas.

They also benefit from being in a privileged position that makes their life less complicated than rugby. For example – there is nowhere else in the world where you can play AFL at a professional standard and there is no international game to factor in. You want to play AFL then you do it in Australia. Tends to make things easier when you’re not competing with overseas markets for talent or having to factor in international performances.

It’s also important to remember that the AFL Commission is basically the governing body for the entire AFL sport – not just the Aussie Rules leagues in Australia. It decides and controls the sport worldwide.

RA is the governing body for rugby in Australia. They then have to work with SANZAAR (and their respective unions) when it comes to things like Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship, and with World Rugby and other overseas unions when it comes to tours, media, rules, tournaments etc etc.

So sure there are some pros of the AFL Commission style but it’s a very, very different ball game in more ways than one.

What aspects of the AFL Commission do you think that RA should (and could) look to replicate?

'We're absolutely committed': RA chief reveals plan to centralise control of Super Rugby clubs

I agree that could happen but I choose to believe that it a centralised approach is a better approach than the current model.

As a code, rugby needs to change its approach to deliver better club level performance, generate more revenue, try to compete with other codes and produce more consistently high performances at international level.

I think that the key to success is two fold:
– centralisation with top quality sports administrators leading the RA and then high quality coaching at the Super Rugby level.
– bigger investment probably from private equity

Does it guarantee success? Nope. Is it better than the current approach? Yes I believe it is.

Crucial to the longer term success of the code are solutions to the questions I raised – will it help improve the situation for the grass roots of the game? Will it help create pathways/development opportunities for players? Will it help all parts of the game and not just the mens’ Super Rugby?

“Swallowed the press release” in terms of believe it will work perfectly, no question? Not at all
“Swallowed the press release” in terms of reading the reports thoroughly so I understand what’s been said so far and what detail is missing – yeah I reckon so.

You’re absolutely right that there is a risk that it just ends up creating a bigger overheard but I think the strategy is the right one.

'We're absolutely committed': RA chief reveals plan to centralise control of Super Rugby clubs

SANZAAR control the international media rights and have relied upon trying to sell them to overseas broadcasters – like Sky in the UK.

Many major sports around the world have instead set up online streaming services that they own and control and can then sell access to the content to individuals in markets around the world.

It allows the sport to control the content, the packages, the add ons etc and helps to keep the audience member in the sports’ “ecosystem” instead of simply selling the broadcast rights to an overseas media business.

SANZAAR add another chapter to their textbook on how not to market a product

Are those Super Rugby AO or TT stats for the Kiwi sides?

Cause if they are AO then I’d compare them with the TT stats where I reckon the stats show that the Kiwi sides are performing at a far higher percentage than they do in the AO comp.

I’d then take from that the AU sides are much less competitive at the line out and the Kiwi sides are much less threatened by the AU forwards at the line out.

Either way we cut it – this weekend, the AU teams’ line outs were poor – poorer than their Kiwi rivals and poorer than they themselves have delivered this season and so they need improvement.

Five talking points from Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, Round 4

It’s a really interesting area to consider and you can come at it from a range of points of view I reckon with the truth probably lying as some complicated combination of a variety of contributing factors.

Here’s a few that I’ve always have assumed are at work to help explain the differences between the quality of the club sides in Australia and New Zealand:

roadmap – in New Zealand there is a much clearer, and higher quality, path from school rugby up to Super Rugby. In Australia that just doesn’t exist. Not only does that mean that they are making it harder for up and coming players to see a path to Super Rugby, but also the quality of the “breeding game” is reduced as many SR players will jump into an SR set up rather than go up through the ranks. Also it seems to be tough for SR players who aren’t internationals to play some good rugby outside of the Super Rugby season. Whether this be warming up for the SR season or after it or making your way back from injury, there’s little to no competitive rugby for them to play.

organisational structure – this is second if not third hand info but the way it’s been explained to me before is that the Super Rugby clubs in New Zealand work very closely with the NZRU and All Blacks so that they can discuss plans for different players and tactics. I’ve read how Dave Rennie and the Wallabies coaches have been working with some of the AU clubs this season but I don’t know how well aligned the RA, Wallabies and Super Rugby clubs have been in the past.

competition for attention – the Australian sporting market has some big competition for Rugby with both NRL and AFL capturing both viewers and potential players’ attention. The NRL and AFL seem to have much better talent scouting processes in place as well as more effective local community and school engagement meaning that Rugby is in 3rd place at best when trying to attract the attention of players and fans. This dilution impacts so many parts of the game – fewer potential players, fewer potential coaches, fewer number of fans spending money on the game, rights holders not able to get as much for rights and sponsorship etc etc, less money floating around the game at all levels.

strong leadership – again this is not from first hand experience but you do get the impression that the leadership at the top of rugby in Australia has been short sighted for far too long. The whole process that led to the culling of the Force is a prime example – even irrespective of the final decision, the way the process was played out was pretty horrendous.

style of play – each team has it’s own approach and each nation too has characteristics to their national style of play. An observation is that Super Rugby sides are just not competitive enough at the breakdown. This leads to slower ball getting to playmakers and more turnovers. There are other differences between the two countries typical styles of play but the breakdown is a big one. Kiwi sides are taught to be wiser at the breakdown and when they do engage in the ruck they use better technique and a coordinated approach between the forwards.

SANZAAR – this is kind of an indirectly related issue and a personal view but I think that SANZAAR have done such a terrible job of growing and marketing the Super Rugby competition and that has impacted all the nations involved. The most recent example was the beginning of this season when RA and NZRU had broadcast deals sorted in their local markets but SANZAAR hadn’t sorted anything for overseas audiences. Crazy.

Five talking points from Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, Round 4

You gotta savour every moment! I’m a Rebels fan and I savoured the warm up before kick off. Then it all went downhill

Six talking points from Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, Round 1

Rebels and Tahs were the two teams I was talking about.

They conceded over 110 points in 160 minutes of rugby between them, both at home. The Tahs scored some decent tries themselves, don’t get me wrong. But my thinking is that if you’re conceding 10 tries in a game at home to the worst team in Super Rugby Aotearoa and you’re missing more than 1 tackle in 5, then you’ve been torn to shreds.

Six talking points from Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, Round 1

I mean to be fair the article is called Talking Points – as in points for the community to talk about. And the Roar classes itself as “Australia’s Biggest Sporting Debate”. So picking up on points that are meant to encourage discussion and debate in the community is kinda the aim right?

Writing the column week in, week out and purely focusing on points from the weekend’s games gets a bit boring over the course of a season – not sure how entertaining it is to write for the 4th time that the Blues aren’t living up to expectations or the Force are plucky or how bad the Tahs are cause of poor list management.

So that’s why I try to blend together some specific points from the round – eg the Captain’s Challenge point – and also broader issues for the game that have cropped up in the past week – eg PE investment in both unions.

Would you prefer the points without the questions to readers Faith?

Six talking points from Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa

I think my biggest issues with the cross field kick is when either it’s used almost without looking at where the defence is and the winger ends up being forced to take this high ball milliseconds before getting smashed by defence, or the kick is very contestable.

Or when teams sort of run out of ideas and someone lobs up this cross field kick which gets the ball out to the winger quickly but there’s defence just standing there waiting and you kinda wonder “Well what was the point in that – you’ve just created a situation where your winger is taking the ball standing still and the touch line is just behind him waiting to gobble him up”

Five talking points from Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa

Too many under value him I think because he doesn’t have the flair of say Beauden but the guy was immense. As the standards get higher and pressure gets greater, the ability to play without errors should be valued more and more and Smith was so consistently reliable.

Five talking points from Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa

Highlanders performance this season makes me sad as I quite like them – sort of a plucky underdog.

I think with Aaron Smith not hitting peak form they naturally struggle. Their forwards aren’t too bad although they will miss Squire. But the backs are poor and it keeps costing them as they struggle to turn ball and position into points over and over.

I also think that they are still struggling to replace Ben Smith – partly on the pitch but definitely within the set up.

Five talking points from Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa

Hahaha – always great to get your considered opinion.

For me, that question about the Force isn’t that interesting. The answer is pretty clear and the topic has been discussed already. I did look for your article on it but couldn’t find it.

I think a more interesting question about the Force is are they bringing in enough young talent and do they have the right club strategies to build a successful squad for the future?

Five talking points from Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa

Haha was thinking more about the top grade rugby experience than life experience

Six talking points from Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa

Re the ruck clearing out technique – is what you’re describing as the way to do it called the crocodile technique? Cause if so, it’s sadly not without risk. Jack Willis was put out of the game for months cause of a crocodile tackle when England played Italy a couple of weeks ago in the Six Nations.

Six talking points from Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa

Yeah it’s a fair point – both sides really struggled in that second half to put together some decent phases together and the stop/start nature of the game made it hard going for a while.

It’s interesting that teams can struggle with some of the true basics of the sport that they are at the top of but these two teams aren’t the only ones. Reds would have been frustrated that they didn’t score points during the 20 minute of 14 Tahs but they did get the benefits of a very tired NSW side in the final 15 mins or so.

Five talking points from Super Rugby AU Round 1

Yeah it’s a totally fair point – I guess I’m just keen to see some young Aussie talent get a run out. But totally agree that a Puma’s half back pairing would be better than Prior and Lance.

Five talking points from Super Rugby AU Round 1

There was something like this back during the World Cup I think – there was a law firm or media firm who were responsible for copyright for the RWC content and they went on some blitz targeting anyone who tried to reuse content but World Rugby didn’t know much/anything about it.

I think Squidge actually got an official job as a reporter with RWC and was allowed to do his stuff on content once it was 24 hours old after some negotiation

SANZAAR are the Blockbuster Video of the sporting world

Yeah it’s telling isn’t it that the vast majority of case studies on topics like fan engagement, fan experience, content creation, user generated content, omni channel growth etc etc come from sports/clubs/leagues in the US and sadly very few come from rugby or Australia/New Zealand/South Africa.

You can argue about restricted budgets etc but part of the genius of a user generated content plan is that it’s the users who are generating the content, like you say, for free. Find the best ones, the ones who are doing stuff you can’t do and partner with them.

It’s not as if SANZAAR have the secret recipe and they want to keep it secret. They should be looking at ways of growing their community in every way possible!!

SANZAAR are the Blockbuster Video of the sporting world

Yeah this just comes back to the lack of innovative and collaborative thinking within SANZAAR it seems.

They could look at the quality of those two YouTubers work and the audiences they are growing and think – hmmm, right now all we’re doing when it comes to video content is a short, basic highlights package on our site after the game. Why don’t we pay these guys a little bit and support them and hire them to create analysis content for us and stick it on our site?

They would immediately gain more traffic to their site and stand a better chance of engaging with audiences around the world.

Then if they backed that up with a streaming platform that they own and promote that, then maybe fans of Squidge’s work would sign up to see a couple of Super Rugby games and then who knows??

So frustrating and short sighted!

SANZAAR are the Blockbuster Video of the sporting world

Absolutely – I think Channel 9 will sit tight for a bit and see how if they can grow the audiences and advertising revenue etc.

Given that they’ve already invested in the whole set up I wonder if they could go to SANZAAR and do a deal over the overseas stuff too?

Or SANZAAR should right now be speaking with other platform providers to see if they can leverage their kit to get a subscription service out there for overseas fans.

I think that the excuses of “COVID” and it takes time and money are just so weak from SANZAAR. This stuff should have been in place for years already.

SANZAAR are the Blockbuster Video of the sporting world

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