The PM copped more than she bargained for when she visited the All Blacks’ dressing room.
The Prime Minister copped more than she bargained for when she visited the All Blacks’ dressing room.
There was a predictable range of reactions to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen’s “sister, can you spare a few million bucks?” pitch to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after the Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park. Some rolled their eyes and gave Hansen marks for cheek, if nothing else. Others saw it as yet another example of rugby’s insufferable sense of entitlement. And the odd contrarian urged the Government to give these national treasures whatever they claim they need.
Much of the reaction suggested that, more than 20 years after the advent of professional rugby, New Zealanders still haven’t got their heads around the reality that the national sport is now a business and needs to not only break even but also make a profit to thrive.
The tendency to assume money is no object when discussing rugby starts at the top. Last year, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters insisted New Zealanders have a “cultural right” to watch All Blacks tests on a free-to-air broadcaster, while Minister of Sport and Recreation Grant Robertson said he was looking forward to talking to New Zealand Rugby “about how they will achieve the Government’s goal of pay equity”. A short, honest answer would be “with great difficulty”. If both these supposed imperatives came to pass, the gap between NZ Rugby’s income and expenditure would be a lot more than the current, and unsustainable, $5 million-$7 million a year.
Hansen’s point, shared by NZ Rugby chief executive Steve Tew, is that, if nothing changes, our ability to retain top players will decline and, with it, the All Blacks’ success rate. Some will say “who cares?”, but don’t bother answering that question: enlightenment is the last thing they want.
If NZ Rugby does seek taxpayer support for player retention, one imagines the Government’s first question will be, “How come this didn’t come up during the eight years that John Key was prime minister and exhibiting an attachment to the team bordering on what roguish former All Black Andy Haden termed ‘jockstrap sniffing?’”
Follow-up questions could include: If the All Blacks brand is as
It’s been suggested that NZ Rugby consider making All Blacks tests pay-per-view.
powerful and global as you say, surely opportunities to monetise it are plentiful?
Why don’t you work with World Rugby and other countries on measures to take the heat out of the player market, and make overseas clubs pay a transfer fee when they poach our talent? Why don’t you negotiate revenue-sharing arrangements when the All Blacks fill those massive European stadiums?
In World Cup years, why not suspend the policy that overseas-based players won’t be considered for the All Blacks?
Have you explored all other avenues?
NZ Rugby would probably respond that searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow would be a marginally less productive use of its time and resources than chasing solutions that require the support and goodwill of World Rugby, the Northern Hemisphere nations – almost one and the same thing – and the European club owners whose ambitions, egos and apparently bottomless pits of money drive the player market.
You’d assume that lead sponsors adidas and US insurance giant AIG expect to have to dig deeper to stop NZ Rugby going to the market when the current arrangements come up for renegotiation. NZ Rugby currently makes broadcasting deals with its Sanzaar partners, but with more ways to deliver content and new actors entering the sports broadcasting market, it may be time to explore other options. For instance, it has been suggested that NZ Rugby should consider making
All Blacks tests pay-per-view, like heavyweight boxer Joseph Parker’s fights. Pay-per-view has changed the rewards on offer in combat sports out of all recognition, with boxer Floyd Mayweather reportedly earning more than $300 million for his encounter (to call it a “fight” would be an overstatement) with cage fighter Conor McGregor.
For its part, NZ Rugby could ask the Government to consider tax breaks for our leading players, pointing to the model that has enabled Ireland to keep its top players at home, thereby assisting the Irish team’s rise to second in the world rankings.
Perhaps the best argument against hitting up the taxpayer is that the current situation is working pretty well: the All Blacks are winning, the exodus isn’t unduly alarming – either in terms of numbers or the quality of those departing – and the outflow creates opportunities in what might otherwise be a closed shop.
Furthermore, the prospect of being able, at some point, to pick up a lucrative gig in Europe or Japan must enhance the appeal of a career in professional rugby.
The All Blacks aren’t Air New Zealand, a strategic asset vital to the nation’s economic health. But they do contribute to the nation’s general wellbeing. I suspect a social accounting audit would conclude that a sensible government would keep a close watching brief.
In the meantime, Hansen may like to assure the Prime Minister that he has mothballed the begging bowl so it’s safe to go back into the All Blacks dressing room.
The All Blacks may be dominant but New Zealand Rugby is strapped for cash.
High tackle: All Blacks’ coach Steve Hansen, far left, and, below, NZ Rugby CEO Steve Tew.