The Rugby World Cup is still 127 days away, but over the course of the last month we’ve seen a real heightening of speculation and anticipation about the battle for the William Webb Ellis trophy. With every round of Super Rugby, Australian selectors have an increasingly unenviable role and the changes to the eligibility rules for Wallaby selection have added an international spice to the conversation. Add in yesterday’s announcement confirming that the Wallabies will play the USA Eagles in Chicago en route to England, their first Test in the USA in 40 years, and it’s easy to get lost dreaming of September already.
The Test against the USA will not only deliver commercial benefits via the overt exposure of the Wallabies into the North American market, but will also likely deliver a healthy match appearance fee to the ARU. It’s a significant windfall and comes in advance of the announcement of a new Super Rugby broadcast deal, which is expected to increase markedly against current revenue.
In a week where the Federal Government’s budget announcement has turned the nation’s attention to all things fiscal and planning for the future, the question then come to mind – how will Australian Rugby be investing its likely broadcast windfall to support and sustain the future of the game?
It’s a simple enough question, but a difficult one to answer without a broader and holistic vision for the game. As part of the ARU’s Annual General Meeting last month, it was announced that a process of stakeholder engagement and drafting of a new whole of game strategic plan, for the next five years, was underway. It’s a project that should work in accordance with the ARU’s development of a ‘national charter’ to determine the roles and responsibilities of different governing bodies within the game.
RUPA welcomes this initiative and looks forward to working with ARU and other rugby stakeholders in order to collaborate on a robust and innovative road map for commercial and competitive growth.
Commercially, such a plan will need to focus on how rugby differentiates itself within the most competitive sporting marketplace in the world in order to own a space in the hearts and minds of current and future fans, players, coaches and officials.
The FFA last week launched their ambitious and bold whole of game plan, whilst other codes have done similarly in recent years, with the AFL positioning itself as “Australia’s Game”, Cricket as “A game for all Australians” and the NRL is self-proclaimed as “The Greatest Game of All”. Needless to say, rugby needs a compelling proposition to compete; one that values the game’s grassroots and defers attention from national participant and insurance levies.
Competitively, balancing the priorities of International and Super Rugby success is paramount for not just the ARU, but the Super Rugby teams and their State Unions. It’s a conversation implicitly connected to RUPA, as any plan based on recruitment and retention of elite players must be supported by effective contracting frameworks. National top-ups, salary caps, squad sizes, eligibility criteria and sabbaticals are all examples of independent issues which cumulate to have an impact on the overall model and the potential success of our professional rugby teams.
For instance, the current contracting process is somewhat bias to those teams already boasting Wallabies. Whilst there is a Super Rugby salary cap agreed as per the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), its capacity to create competitive balance is affected by the application of ARU top-ups to players of national interest only. On this basis, the real Australian star performers of the 2015 season are neither the Brumbies nor the Waratahs, but the Rebels who are performing and playing at a level well above their reputation.
Whilst this might be deemed a criticism of the current framework, it could well be argued that without this system of ARU support the Waratahs would not have assembled the playing list to have won the Super Rugby title last year. In short, there is no framework that will appease all stakeholders and meet universal objectives. The issue at hand – and the importance of a shared vision for the whole of game – is to find a framework that best balances these priorities.
Again, it’s a conversation that RUPA looks forward to being a part of and one that will be pivotal to our future CBA discussions with ARU and the Super Rugby teams.
Lastly, in addition to our four Super Rugby teams playing this weekend (the Force are enjoying a well-earned break), RUPA wishes the very best of luck to both the Australian Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams playing in their final and penultimate Sevens World Series events respectively. Whilst the Men’s squad will turn their attention to the Oceania qualification tournament in November to ensure their place at the Rio Olympics, the Women’s squad have a great opportunity to confirm their place for 2016 in the next two weeks. All the best to Ed, Sharni and their teams for a big weekend in London.
Enjoy this issue of Lineout and this weekend’s rugby.