Rugby’s pricey an­kle tap tackle

Simnikiwe Xabanisa looks deeper into why unions are be­ing liq­ui­dated or re­port­ing losses; why spon­sors are scal­ing back or leav­ing; why fans are no longer turn­ing up at sta­di­ums; and why play­ers are go­ing abroad

CityPress - - Sport -

Two things feed into clar­i­fy­ing that pic­ture: an ev­er­shrink­ing slice of the San­zaar pie, what with Ar­gentina also com­ing along for the ride, and ma­jor spon­sor Absa’s de­ci­sion to pull the plug on its deal. San­zaar broad­cast­ing rights amounted to R330 mil­lion (a third of South African Rugby’s an­nual rev­enue), a sum that is di­vided into 15 be­tween the 14 pro­vin­cial unions and SA Rugby.

While the share is be­com­ing smaller, travel costs have in­creased due to the new des­ti­na­tions (Ar­gentina, Singapore and Ja­pan) added to the ros­ter with­out nec­es­sar­ily grow­ing the game in those ar­eas.

Ac­cord­ing to an in­sider, the six Super Rugby fran­chises get an ad­di­tional “fran­chise fee” for the du­ra­tion of the tour­na­ment.

What angers most of those in­volved is that the smaller unions have an equal share of the pot by virtue of hav­ing an equal vote, as op­posed to how much their con­tri­bu­tion to the suc­cess of the game is.

Absa’s late, late show in de­cid­ing not to re­new was a sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial blow. When it de­cided to pull the plug on its spon­sor­ship of the Spring­boks and the Currie Cup, it was pay­ing R90 mil­lion for the space on the front of the Bok jersey and a fur­ther R45 mil­lion or so for the do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion.

To get a sense of how much SA Rugby has lost, one has to con­sider that Blue La­bel Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, which has stepped into the breach on the Bok jersey, would be hard­pressed if it was pay­ing even 50% of what Absa was pay­ing for the up­grade, ac­cord­ing to an in­dus­try in­sider.

Added to the pretty bleak pic­ture is that BMW and Unilever are also not ex­tend­ing their deals.

The ex­ag­ger­ated re­sponse by one of­fi­cial was that “an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the unions are in­sol­vent”, while a more tem­pered view is that more than half of them are in the red.

The truth may be some­where in the mid­dle, but when West­ern Prov­ince say they will make an R11.2 mil­lion loss and have a R72 mil­lion law­suit hang­ing over their heads, the out­look can’t be rosy for the rest.

Prov­ince have al­ways had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing one of the mon­eyed unions, and if they don’t have money, who does?

East­ern Prov­ince have al­ready been liq­ui­dated this year for fail­ing to pay cred­i­tors the R28 mil­lion they owed them.

This means their Super Rugby team is now SA Rugby’s bur­den be­cause it in­sisted on a sixth fran­chise.

That “le­gal and mo­ral” obli­ga­tion costs SA Rugby about R30 mil­lion per Super Rugby sea­son, which is ap­par­ently a third of what you re­ally need to run a team in that com­pe­ti­tion.

There are rel­a­tive suc­cess sto­ries, such as the Grif­fons and the Valke, teams that rely on beg­ging and bor­row­ing for play­ers and op­er­ate on shoe­string bud­gets. in­struc­tive of how peo­ple just don’t go to sta­di­ums any more.

In the end, they got be­tween 12 000 to 17 000 peo­ple to a 52 000-seater sta­dium that would have ex­pected at least 45 000 five years ago.

The big­ger is­sue here is that the sea­son’s ticket sales have gone down by al­most 50% for pretty much all the ma­jor rugby unions.

The TV num­bers aren’t bet­ter, ei­ther, with Super Rugby as a whole hav­ing gone down by be­tween 30% and 40%, while that fig­ure is about 15% to 20% for South Africa.

The rea­son of­fered for this is that peo­ple tend to watch two to three things at the same time these days, and the ad­vent of so­cial me­dia and live scor­ing means peo­ple can braai and keep an eye on the rugby on their phones.

A bloated and con­fus­ing Super Rugby for­mat has not helped.

PHOTOS: GALLO IM­AGES

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