Does New Zealand Rugby/Super Rugby need fixing?

With all the negativity you see in the mainstream press surly something must be broken in New Zealand rugby. From my point of view there are 2 sides to rugby that we need to look at when asking if anything needs fixing? There’s the playing performance side which includes playing stocks and teams performances. The other side is the finances which includes attendances and viewing numbers as that drives what will come in from sponsorship, TV rights, etc…

Playing Performance

If we look at the playing side of things the All Blacks are number 1 in the world and lose 1 or 2 games a year for the last decade or so. Over the last 7 years, Super Rugby has been won by 4 different New Zealand franchises 6 times. The only side that hasn’t been performing is the Blues and we have just seen Auckland win the Mitre 10 Cup, so is the biggest city in New Zealand about to have a resurgence?

There are still players going overseas, as there always is, showing that the player pathways are also functioning just fine. So from a playing point of view everything is great and doesn’t need fixing.

Why is it working is something that people around the world are constantly trying to figure out. One reason that is never mentioned though is the number of games that all players get to play, not just the All Blacks. In England they have just agreed a new limit to the number of games players can play which is reducing form 32 to 30. Compared to players in New Zealand who are playing closer to 20 games a season. By having the Super Rugby and Club rugby running concurrently then International and Mitre 10 Cup concurrently all players get that playing time. In Europe they are trying to reduce the Club/International overlap which will see a few top players play more and other players not get enough rugby.

People do talk about restructuring Super Rugby but as far as producing players there’s nothing wrong with it. The one big issue was the break in the season for the June tests, but we aren’t going to have that again. The Rugby World Cup means no June tours next year and the global callendar moves the games to July after that, allowing Super Rugby to happen in 1 consecutive slot.

Financial Performance

On the financial side things New Zealand has done well since professionalism, sure there have been blips along the way but if you look at Australia, Wales and Scotland those blips have been relatively minor.

The way that New Zealand rugby has managed its finances has been to grown and then leverage the All Blacks brand. The problem is that it’s gone as far as it can go and the forecast is for unsustainable losses going forwards.

Whilst New Zealand Rugby has been concentrating on the All Blacks, Super Rugby and the NPC have dropped in popularity and so also finances. This means that everything below the All Blacks has to be subsidised by them. That’s probably never going to change as we see similar situations in most of the other countries, but the level of subsidy is something that does need to change.

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As I said above, the structures are right for producing players and teams so the solution isn’t necessarily changing those structures but in improving the marketing of them.

So finances is an area that needs fixing and as we need a long term solution it’s not something that can be fixed overnight. Also there’s not just one fix so if you think of something I haven’t mention then please let me know in the comments below.

Here’s my action plan, the overall idea is to grow the number of people attending games. This should also grow the number of people watching games on TV as they watch their team at away games and also other games in the competitions:

  1. Make going to the rugby special family time again
  2. Connect with the community
  3. Create a social buzz around the game

How do we do that?

  1. Make going to the rugby special family time again
    • Offer schools free physical education programs that are rugby centric. The unions would provide the PE teachers to run these in the schools all year round. Obviously these teachers would let the kids know how their local teams went at the weekend.
    • Give the kids t-shirts in the local provinces colours.
    • Give the kids a voucher for a free junior season pass if an adult buys a half priced season pass. That adults pass would only be valid if the child goes along with them.
    • It’s a real slow burn but will help to make the weekends games something that the family go along to and continue to do once they grown up.
  2. Connect with the community
    • Have quick 2 minute* video interviews with each of the players and especially the club players in Mitre 10 Cup. Covering how they got into rugby, which schools they went to, which iwi they are part of or other social groups and what they do outside of rugby including jobs/career.
    • Share these interviews with the schools, iwi, etc… so that they can share these on their social media, use them in school assemblies.
    • Each week send an email/facebook message to each players’ schools/iwi/etc… if they are playing so again this can be included in school assemblies.
  3. Create a social buzz around the game
    • The mainstream media have been bashing the sport for years so encourage and support the social media pundits who are positive about rugby.
    • Actively invite social media pundits to have media accreditation and to attend games.
    • Have a bloggers bench or similar section in the Mitre 10 Cup and All Blacks email newsletters to help social media pundits increase their audience.
    • Provide footage to accredited YouTubers to edit and produce content.
    • Put out short interview videos from training and post match. Here’s one that I did prior to the Mitre 10 Cup final that reached near 1,000 views that shows they don’t need to be highly edited or produced.

These are my ideas to increase the audience and so increase the finances of Super Rugby and Mitre 10 Cup. They aren’t an immediate fix and I’m sure there are other great ideas out there that I haven’t thought of so please add your ideas down below in the comments.

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* If you are wondering why I’m suggesting just 2 minute long videos that is because that’s what works on Facebook.

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