Rugby Australia’s New “Broadcast Package”

Club Rugby Players
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

Last week, as promised Rugby Australia announced it’s broadcast plans for 2021 and beyond. I love that they’ve given the New Zealanders a timeline to be in or out. But it’s important now to stick to that September 4th deadline. If the New Zealanders don’t commit by then that’s fine, they can play by themselves.

Below I have provided a breakdown of each component of the “Broadcast Package” and provided some commentary on each component. I’d like to preface you reading this by saying that some of what they’re proposing is idiotic, while some of it is brilliant. You can’t win them all I guess…

Wallabies and Wallaroos Tests

No Brainer. One of the few existing Rugby products that are valuable to a broadcaster. It gets watched by a fairly large audience and has the capacity and potential to make money for a broadcaster.

It’s great to see the Women’s game getting the call-up here too. Especially as the Women’s World Cup is being held in Australia in 2021.

Nothing more to say a great job.

Trans-Tasman or Super Rugby Au Domestic Competition

This is a confirmation of a belief that I’ve held for some time. The South African’s might not have ever wanted to play Super Rugby. It seems now that they’ll be excluded anyway, with Rugby Australia proclaiming that this competition will either feature just Australian teams or it’ll feature teams from Australia and New Zealand.

This has been coming for some time. One of the major problems with Super Rugby (and there are many) is that it’s played in so many different time zones (the actual number is 16). This is problematic for several reasons. But in particular, for an Australian broadcaster, it means that 63% of fixtures either don’t feature an Australian team or fall outside of a prime TV slot. That’s a product that has very little potential to generate revenue for an Australian broadcaster.

I’d be taking a guess here but I figure the competition will be played over 15 rounds (assuming the New Zealanders commit) with 2 byes. The Australian team would play each other twice and then NZ teams once (NZ would do the same but in reverse). Each team would play 13 games over 15 rounds.

The finals would feature the top two teams from Australia and the top two from New Zealand and be played over 2 weeks.

Again I’d like to reiterate that I am guessing here. But to me, this seems like the most logical structure to sell to a broadcaster. And here’s why:

  1. This format would consist of 65 total games. 45 of those games would feature an Australian team. While the other 20 would feature New Zealand teams exclusively. This represents 69.2% of games featuring an Australian team.
  2. The New Zealand teams would be plying in a far more Australian TV-friendly timeslot.  A 7 pm kick-off in New Zealand is 5 pm AEST and 3 pm AWST. Then The east Coast Australian game would kick-off at 7 pm (EST) and the West Coast game would kick-off at 9 pm. Thus filling some of the primetime slots.
  3. All of a sudden either 100 per cent of games feature an Australian team or are at a time that suits an Australian Broadcaster.

Without the New Zealanders, the competition remains fairly similar. Everyone plays each other 3 times, has 3 byes and it’s played over 15 rounds. Finals feature 3 teams and are played over 2 weeks with the top team gaining automatic entry into the grand final.

Rugby Australia must stick to that September 4 deadline. The competition would be infinitely better with the Kiwis featured, but if Super Rugby Au has shown us anything, it’s that we don’t “need” the Kiwis to have a successful competition.

Super 8 Series

This proposed series would feature 2 of the best domestic teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and the top team from Japan and South America. This concept is not dissimilar from what I proposed way back in May. And, it gives Rugby the “Champions League” style competition it’s been looking for.

This concept has the biggest potential for BIG TV revenue. Because it’s more than likely going to be played over a shorter span 7 – 10 weeks), it’ll be sold to multiple markets and in theory, will feature the best teams and players. It’s not inconceivable to think this competition could start a bidding war between broadcasters. Unfortunately, this competition doesn’t exist in 2020. So Rugby Australia is going to have to sell the long-term vision.

In the short-term, as mentioned above, Rugby Australia is going to have to sell this as a concept. Which means it doesn’t yet have any real value. So in the short-term, a broadcaster could get this cheap.

I love this concept, but I don’t see how this would move the needle with a broadcaster seeing as it doesn’t exist at present. but a great concept none the less.

State of Union

Rugby now has 40-20s.. oh sh*t sorry 50-22s, line dropouts, a “State of Union” concept. Why don’t we just drop the flankers from the field, remove the scrum contest, get rid of the lineout and instead of having contestible rucks, we’ll just limit the number of opportunities each team gets before they have to turn the ball over? “State of Union”? give me a f***ing break, this is the most unoriginal thing our game has ever attempted to do.

To start with we already have two teams who represent NSW and QLD, they’re known as the NSW Waratahs and the Queensland Reds. Why would the Brumbies, Rebels or Western Force release their players to go and play for the Waratahs or the Reds? It devalues everyone else’s brand. Additionally, if I’m a player from the ACT, WA or VIC I think I’d say “no I’m good, I already represent my state.

The reason this concept works in Rugby League is that the NRL  teams are clubs, representing suburbs and/or cities across Australia. Then, they come together as NSW and QLD to play a representative fixture. It has meaning because outside of playing State of Origin, you can’t represent your state in Rugby league. In Rugby Union, our teams already represent the state.

I get it New Zealand has the North vs South Island fixture and Rugby Australia wants a similar product. But to just blatantly rip-off Rugby League shows a real lack of imagination. What about running a probables vs possibles fixture?  Or East Coast Vs The Rest? Private School vs Public School? There is a tonne of ways to do it. And, in typical Rugby Australia fashion, we’ve chosen the one that doesn’t invoke any imagination.

National Club Championship

I love this concept. This is something the Rugby community has been screaming for, for a long time. And, as a replacement for the NRC, it makes a lot of sense. What’s been evident in the 5 NRC seasons, it hasn’t had buy-in from the fans. A club’s based competition already has an inbuilt passionate fan base.

I had a look at how a club’s based competition could replace Super Rugby in Australia. I’m under no impression that this competition will be as elaborate as what I proposed, but there are some things we can pull out to make sure this competition is truly a national representation of rugby clubs.

Rugby Australia general manager of professional rugby services Ben Whitaker stated this week that the National Club Championship will be “inclusive”. But failed to provide any detail on what that would look like. My worry with a competition like this is that it gets stacked with clubs from QLD and NSW and a very small representation of clubs from the rest of Australia.

Here’s how I think it should look:

  • Top 2 teams from Sydney
  • Top 2 teams from Brisbane
  • The top team from Canberra
  • The top team from Melbourne
  • The top team from Perth
  • The top team from Darwin
  • The top team from Adelaide
  • The top team from Tasmania

Season length will be the determining factor here. You could break clubs off into two pools of 5 each team plays each other once over 5 rounds, top two teams qualify for a two-week finals series. So it’d be a 7 week season. This makes a lot of sense for the players. Coming off a long club footy season an additional 7 weeks is a lot to ask from amateur players.

The other option is to extend the season out to 12 weeks. Everyone plays each other once, top 4 teams qualify for finals. This might be a bit more attractive to a broadcaster but from the players perspective, that’ll be tough to manage for the amateurs.

As long as we get a truly national representation of clubs, it’ll be great. If we just end up with 8 clubs from NSW and QLD and 2 from the rest of the country it’s not worth doing.

This competition has a chance to re-connect the clubs to the high-performance programs, but only if it features teams from each state. There’s also scope then to prop up some of the teams with Super Rugby players (not in the Wallabies) to get some additional game time.

Shute Shield and Hostpital Challenge Cup

Rugby Australia has just looked after QLD and NSW here. It’s ok I don’t disagree that these two competitions are the premier rugby competitions in Australia. But it is a little disappointing they haven’t put a more broad club rugby package together. Having said all of that it’ll be great to see club footy getting some real TV exposure.

Selected Schools Matches

I don’t know about this one. I love Schools rugby. Every chance I get (and it’s not often) I go and watch my old school play. Every time I go and watch, it reminds me of the game I fell in love with when I was a kid. And, reminds me why I continue to stay involved in the sport.

But does it have the same appeal to the broader public? Does the casual fan really care about Schools Rugby?

When you consider that Super W and the Aon Uni7s Series, which are the premier Women’s Rugby competitions in Australia. At a time when Fox Sports has $10,000,000 in Government funding to broadcast women’s sport have not been included in this package. It’s indefensible that Schools rugby gets thrown in but a truly national women’s competition (in the case of the Uni7s Series) misses out.

Once again it shows a lack of lateral thinking from the Rugby Australia Board. And, disappointingly it means they could miss out on some additional funding because they’re too focused on the traditional formats of the game and, ripping off Rugby Leagues ideas.

All in all, there’s some potential here. And for the first time in a while, I’m excited about Rugby prospects moving forward. I look forward to seeing how this all plays out. And I look forward to hearing what you guys think too.

 

 

 

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