A proposal has been put forward to the IRB and major national unions of the world to establish a new Global Super Rugby competition.
Integrated as part of a global season, the ‘Maximising Rugby’s Value’ proposal would see the world’s best rugby players playing a maximum of 30 matches per season.
The new Global Super Rugby competition with 14 newly created club franchises based on all continents (Global Super 14) will accelerate the growth and profile of rugby union around the world by showcasing the best players in one global club competition. This Global Super Rugby club competition will appeal to fans, broadcasters and sponsors throughout the world and will generate annual revenues exceeding US$250 million per season. Central to Global Super Rugby will be the establishment of a revenue sharing model so all national unions will share the revenues generated and that all clubs operate on the same salary cap to help ensure parity.
It is proposed that the inaugural Global Super Rugby competition will begin in March 2006 running until July of that year. As part of the 22 week Global Super Rugby competition (bye weeks and finals included) there will also be the showcase representative ‘Hemisphere of Origin’ match which will see the best Northern Hemisphere players competing against the best Southern Hemisphere players.
Players will then have a break before playing in the Test match part of the season beginning in September which will include traditional tours (including British Lions), existing Test Tournaments (Six Nations & Tri-Nations) as well as newly created Tournaments for other national Test Teams such as those from the Americas and Asia. The purpose of the Test match part of the season is to build on the profile and income generated by Global Super Rugby to increase the profile and number of competitive Test playing nations that can compete and win the Rugby World Cup, essentially bridging the gap between rugby’s ‘have and have nots’. The Rugby World Cup would also be incorporated into the Test Match section of the season once every 4 years.
With the SANZAR deal looking to be extended for a further 5 years in the next 2 weeks (2006-2010) and a new RFU & Zurich Premiership deal soon to be negotiated for the start of the 2005-06 season, it is imperative for the global growth and future of rugby union that these deals are put on hold until the IRB and national unions of the world can assess the merits of Global Super Rugby and the proposed integrated global season.
The NZRU who are leading the SANZAR negotiations already support a global season for professional rugby and have identified the benefits of a global franchise based competition in their ‘Competition Review’ (November 2003). They included four possible options for the future of the Super 12. The fourth option that it gave was not an extension of the Super 12 provincial competition but a ‘new’ worldwide competition. Option four was
‘A global competition: a new full time professional competition including ‘franchises’ from the UK and Europe. … Option 4 will have the greatest revenue generating potential as it will open up the lucrative UK and European markets.’
Sir Anthony O’Reilly, international businessman and former Irish international and British and Irish Lion before the first SANZAR deal was announced in June 1995, like the NZRU also identified that the future for rugby union included a global franchise based competition:
‘I think that, one day individuals will buy franchises and they will buy Sydney, Johannesburg, Cardiff, Paris or Auckland. That will be the way of the future, rather like soccer.’
The Global Super Rugby club franchises will be allocated on a one franchise per nation basis and will after market research be branded in a manner that helps the franchise appeal to national and global audiences. As each club franchise will play at multiple venues in each country the franchise will be named after the country rather than the city where it is based so as to maximise interest from spectators, viewers, broadcasters and sponsors.
For example the England Global Super Rugby franchise could for example be called the England Knights rather than the London Knights to help ensure that they get national support and also attract capacity crowds at a venue such as Manchester’s Old Trafford when they have a match there.
Proposed club locations and club names for Global Super Rugby are as follows:
Argentina Jaguars, Australia Swagmen, Canada Icemen, England Knights, France Revolution, Ireland Shamrocks, Italy Gladiators, Japan Samurais, New Zealand Rams, Pacific Warriors, Scotland Highlanders, South Africa Tribe, USA Fighters and Wales Wizards.
Each club will play 14 matches (7 home & 7 away) over a seventeen week period that includes two byes and one weekend when only the best players in the competition play in a showcase Hemisphere of Origin match. At the end of the regular season the top 6 teams will go through to a final series which will consist of five matches culminating in the first Global Super Rugby Final which will be held at Twickenham in 2006.
Syd Millar the Chairman of the IRB in April 2004 also recognised the challenges that rugby faces as a professional sport and the need for it to develop and implement innovative competition structures such as Global Super Rugby:
‘…we need to devise and to implement innovative structures in order to stimulate and sustain competition at the highest level. Only through strengthening competition will we bring the best out of many nations as individual countries. Only then will we guarantee that the game will continue to expand and progress.‘
Rugby is a nine year old professional sport and by scratching beneath the surface of rugby union in 2004, be it new competitive Test teams being developed, the number of national unions losing money (including established national unions), national unions with substantial debt, low television ratings and attendances for many club rugby games, it becomes obvious that a new approach is needed to grow the game in traditional, developing and new markets..
Global Super Rugby will give national unions and fans at least 7 home games in their country, provide at least 20 matches (includes Hemisphere of Origin match) on terrestrial television in each national market with the remaining matches (83) being available on pay platforms. As well as the above benefits that will help grow the interest and popularity of rugby union throughout the world, financially Global Super Rugby will generate income which can be used to fund other rugby competitions and development activities. Based on each Global Super Rugby franchise achieving 50% stadium capacity, very conservative broadcasting income of US$60 million per year (SANZAR will receive US$78 million in 2005) and minimal sponsorship and merchandise income, Global Super Rugby will be able to support a salary cap for each of the 14 clubs of US$6 million and still make money to fund rugby.
The only time rugby currently works together as one global team by pooling their resources is for the Rugby World Cup. The Rugby World Cup which is held once every four years has helped grow the global profile of rugby and continues to generate significant revenues to fund the development of rugby. The national unions of the world by working together as a team can establish Global Super Rugby as part of a global season which will be an additional platform to grow and generate revenues for rugby around the world for the next 5, 10, 20 years and beyond.
Like the establishment of the first Rugby World Cup in 1987 and the move to professionalism in 1995, there will be those who will disagree with the establishment of Global Super Rugby and a global season. Some will disagree with a religious like zeal driven by the fear of what they believe rugby will lose by becoming a major international sport rather than what rugby will gain by becoming one.
Syd Millar said the following when assessing the challenges for rugby and the IRB moving forwarding April 2004:
‘…In a changing world, perhaps the only thing which is certain is that the IRB cannot afford to stand still. Change we must, and change we will.’
When rugby union declared itself professional in August 1995 it did so without a global strategic plan for rugby in the professional era. The IRB and its member unions made a decision for the sport to go professional without carefully assessing what would be the best structures and competitions to develop and grow rugby in the professional era. In the intervening 9 years no global strategic plan for rugby has been put forward and the sport is struggling financially in traditional, developing and new rugby markets.
Rugby now has the opportunity to establish the world’s first global club competition as part of a global season. As custodians of the game, the leadership of the IRB and national unions have the responsibility to the game to delay signing any upcoming television deals so that this proposal can be fully investigated.
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