The Rugby Australia (RA) governing body has announced its financial results for the 2023 calendar year, headlined by a perilous deficit in its accounts.

Revealed at RA’s annual general meeting (AGM), the body posted a deficit of A$9.2 million ($6.04 million), a figure that the body claims was driven by the France 2023 Rugby World Cup, which it says caused lower gate revenue and spiraling costs.

Operating expenditure rose to A$11.5 million in 2023 according to the governing body, largely due to the logistical costs of a World Cup hosted in the northern hemisphere, as well as growing investment in Australian rugby union, primarily in youth and women’s category national setups, and Australian women’s top tier Super W competition.

The disappointing World Cup campaign, which saw Australia fail to make the knockout stage after defeats to Wales and Fiji, compounded a difficult year for RA, which was unable to capitalize on gate revenue for domestic national team fixtures due to the World Cup.

In 2022, Australia hosted six home Wallabies test matches, but in 2023 only held two.

Despite the punishing deficit, RA called for perspective, adding that the deficits in the previous two World Cup years, 2019 (A$9.5 million) and 2015 ($9.8 million), were both greater.

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RA is, however, bracing itself for another tough year on the revenue front, and likely forecasts another loss, primarily due to the body being forced to take control of the beleaguered Melbourne Rebels Super Rugby Pacific side after it collapsed into administration amid long-term financial issues.

At the AGM, RA chief executive Phil Waugh stated: “From a revenue perspective, 2024 will be another challenging year given we have had to take on the unplanned cost of the Melbourne Rebels’ operations for 2024, as well as additional investments and distributions to member unions, Super Rugby clubs, the community game, pathways, and Women’s Rugby.

“We could have reduced costs further for 2024, however, this could have had a detrimental long-term effect for the game – it is essential that we set the game up as best we can for the major revenue events on the horizon in 2025, 2027, and 2029.”

Australia will host the high-profile British & Irish Lions tour in 2025, the men’s Rugby World Cup in 2027, and the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2029, all of which RA classes as major revenue events and ones that it is hinging the commercial future of the organization on by not scaling back investment at this current crucial juncture.

2026 will also see the agreement of a new domestic TV broadcast deal for the body, which could make or break its financial situation over the following years.

Waugh continued: “Sales to date for the Lions tour have been exceptional, both in our market and in the UK – this once in 12 years event creates the opportunity to repay debt and get over the legacy of COVID-19 that the game is still facing.

“RA is working with the Super Rugby clubs, member unions, and [the Rugby Union Players' Association] to set up a sustainable financial model for the future, aligned to a new broadcast deal in 2026.”