Super Rugby 2017

Week Seven

A Thought For The Week:

And the bunfight continues….

The Force are taking the ARU to court to try and ensure their survival as a Super Rugby franchise. They have enlisted the support of the West Australian government in their bid to remain in the competition. WA Premier Mark McGowan said his state had invested A$100 million in upgrading Perth Oval, in large part to accommodate the Force, and the ARU now had a responsibility not to cull the team.

The WA Government is upping the pressure on Australian Rugby Union (ARU) says that the ARU must “uphold its end of the bargain” by not axing the Perth-based Super Rugby team.

Whilst not doubting Mr McGowan’s word that the Perth ground was upgraded largely to accommodate The Force, we need to be aware that the Force are not the only “tenants”..

The ground’s attendance record was not set by Force supporters, rather it was a crowd of 32 000 that attended an Ed Sheeran concert in 2015. The fans who went to see the little ginge Pom filled the stadium to its capacity for the first and only time. The Oval, called nib Stadium at the moment, has a maximum capacity of 20,500 people for sporting events and 25,000 people for concerts, yet they squeezed a lot more in when the tiny singer took to the stage.

The ground is currently home to two major professional sporting clubs: Perth Glory FC, a soccer team competing in the A-League, and the Western Force, a rugby union team competing in the Super Rugby competition. The ground is also used by the WA Reds, a semi-professional rugby league team competing in the S. G. Ball Cup, as well as for concerts.

I am not 100% sure of attendance figures, but I am told that the crowds that pitch to watch the Perth Glory play soccer frequently outnumber the crowds that pitch for the Force..

Mr McGowan went on to insist: “Australian Rugby Union needs to understand the state of Western Australia put an enormous amount of money into that team and they need to deliver on their part of the bargain, which is leaving the team in place,”

The Premier said he telephoned ARU chief executive Bill Pulver last week to make his views clear.

On Monday the ARU let it be known that they would be announcing ho would go and who would stay “within two or three days” but have now backtracked from that promise, saying it will now be decided upon “as soon as possible”, giving no due date this time around.

It was confirmed that both sides would be given a fair trial to present their respective cases on why they should not be cut next year, according to Canberra Times. “The ARU will undertake due process to ensure that both the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force are given adequate opportunity to present their business case before the board makes a final decision on which team to be removed,” ARU chairman Cameron Clyne said in a statement.

An interesting comment by Greg, one of the Aussie readers of these missives of mine. Greg tells us that he is a rugby union man all the way, and has spoken to many rugby people, the real rugby people who go to club rugby matches and attend schools’ rugby matches. He says that he has not come across a single rugby supporter who does not think Aussie should reduce their Super Rugby participation to three teams, for the good of the game in Australia!

It is not the spectators or the lower level participants in the game that want to preserve all five the Australian teams, it is the vested interests of the players, their trade union, and those who are reliant upon Super Rugby for their monthly pay cheque who are shouting the loudest. It is, understandably I guess, self-interest ahead of the overall good of the game.

Greg also comments on the way Rugby Union has lost support in Australia. The constant diet of dour and dire “derbies” and the plethora of low quality nothing rugby matches between mediocre mid-table and bottom feeder teams has resulted in many bored spectators choosing to turn to League Rugby and AFL games for excitement and entertainment, rather than the stumbling disrupted flow of scrum after ruck after scum after ruck.

I thought it interesting to have a quick look at the attendance figures for rugby matches in Australia. These figures are published by the ARU. (Interesting that they do not publish the figures for some matches, probably due to severe embarrassment at the few that actually turned up.)

The opening match of the Force’s 2017 Super Rugby season:

Thursday, 2nd March, nib Stadium, Perth, Force vs Reds, 7 008 spectators.
Saturday, 4th March, Canberra, Brumbies vs Sharks, 8 738 spectators.
Friday, 10th March, Canberra, Brumbies vs Force, 8 647 spectators.
Friday, 24th March, Sydney, Waratahs vs Rebels, 8 142 spectators.
Saturday, 25th March, Canberra, Brumbies vs Highlanders, 11 195 spectators.
Saturday, 1st April, Brisbane, Reds vs Hurricanes, 17 439 spectators.
Sunday, 9th April, nib Stadium, Perth, Force vs Kings, 8 474 spectators.

It is interesting that even the biggest derbies in Australia are only attracting around 8 000 spectators. Their official figures tell us that the average for 2017 is 10 871 per game, the low numbers for local derbies balanced out by the highs for visiting teams. (The fans certainly turn out in slightly higher numbers when an exciting New Zealand team is visiting, but still nowhere near the capacity of the various stadiums. When the Reds hosted the Hurricanes in Brisbane, 17 439 spectators turned out, around 33% of the Suncorp Stadium’s capacity of 52 500. Slightly more than two years ago, on the 8th July 2015, the stadium was filled to capacity when the Queensland Rugby League Team played New South Wales.)

When we look at the Australian Super Rugby average of around 10 871 spectators per game per week, we need something to measure it against. Australian Rules Football, the AFL, is perhaps a good one. They are averaging 33 000 spectators per game, per week.

Another measurement is to look at the Aussie attendance figures over the last 15 years, since 2003. In the period 2003 to 2006 attendances were uniformly high at around 25 000 per game.

Since 2006 the figures have dropped year by year. By 2013 an average of 17 670 spectators were pitching up at games. By 2016 this was down to 14 787, and now in 2017 we are seeing an average of 10 871.

Contrast the Aussie figures with the overall Super Rugby average attendances for 2016. The overall average, across all 5 participating countries, was 20 384 spectators per game, with the bulk of the spectator numbers being found in South Africa. 20 384 is not a great number!

In 2006, South Africa posted an average Super Rugby crowd of 34,000, Australia 24,000 and New Zealand 22,000.

By 2012, those numbers had dropped across the board – South Africa were down to 28,000, Australia 20,000 and New Zealand 16,000.

The attendance figures have been sounding alarm bells for years.

The Stormers are Super Rugby’s best supported side, with an average of around 32,400 per Super Rugby match. The Lions are next, especially during the last two years, with numbers close to 30 000 per game. Compare that to the Bulls and the Sharks, who average just over 20,000. The Cheetahs are struggling with around 9 000, and the Kings often have as few as 1000 at a game.

Getting back to the discussion about the ARU’s participation in Super Rugby. It is fairly evident to anyone with half a brain that the game of rugby is in very serious trouble in Australia. Support for the game has dwindled by over 50% in just the last six years, and continues to seep away. The results of their five Super Rugby franchises in the last two seasons have been poor, and it is obvious that they do not have the player numbers to provide for five competitive Super Rugby teams.

The insistence on the survival of five, or four, Super Rugby teams is short-sighted and without any merit. They need to focus on rebuilding their game from the grass roots, starting with credible schools or junior rugby systems, a strong national club and provincial/state competition, and then focus on Super Rugby. It must be a bottom-up approach, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Top/Down trickle effect has been of any benefit to the game of rugby at all.

Whilst the Aussies have been fighting the Super Rugby cull in the media and are now heading to court, over in South Africa they have gone a different route.

Representatives of the six Super Rugby franchises on Tuesday agreed a set of criteria to determine the four teams to represent South Africa in the competition from 2018. At the first sitting of new Franchise Committee the CEOs of the franchises and other committee members identified areas on which the teams would be measured.

The agreed headline criteria, which have been weighted, are: financial and economic sustainability; sustainable support base; team performance; and stadium and facilities. These criteria were further broken down in sub-criteria and measurement mechanisms for each of these were also set and agreed upon.

I am not sure what they mean by “weighted” when they consider stuff like the support base and sustainability, or performance…. Or the stadium and facilities…. Without a doubt the Kings have access to a magnificent stadium, but they can surely not survive in terms of any of the other criteria, even if they have the full weight of the ex-Minister of Sport now Minister of Police sitting on their side of the scale?

However, in the manner of South African Bureaucracy, the wheels will turns, slowly, slowly, accompanied by many meetings, plenty of lunches, lots of dinners, tea breaks, business class flights and five star hotel nights. SA Rugby will now collate the applicable data to prepare a recommendation to go back to the Franchise Committee, to make a decision on the final four teams. This proposal will be sent to the Executive Council before it will go to the General Council for ratification.

Best of all, the participants in each of the stages – the Franchise Committee, the Executive Council, and the General Council, are mostly the same people!

The Franchise Committee meeting was chaired by Mr Mark Alexander, SA Rugby President. Its other members are the deputy and vice presidents, Francois Davids and James Stoffberg respectively, as well as Jurie Roux. All of them are also the Executive Council, and members of the General Council.

Nice job, if you can get it.