The first three rounds of the NRC have proved the necessity of a third tier. But is the current competition the best model?
An article last month on The Roar argued that the RUPA Model – a university competition, could be the answer to rugby’s third tier.
I was very surprised with some of the comments. The main objection was that it would confirm rugby’s “elitist” tendencies and alienate existing fans.
One comment that I did agree with was from Sheek, who wrote that “The Roar is one of the last refuges of the diehard rugby fan”. It seems our passion for rugby can skew objective debate. I feel that the most sensible approach is to base argument on the NRC’s official objectives, which according to the Expressions of Interest Document is to:
• Bridge the development pathway gap between State Premier Rugby and Super Rugby
My argument is that the University model will exceed these criteria in the long term. Fox Sports may not initially bankroll the competition (although I believe they will later on), but sustainability is ensured as universities cover the costs.
Conversely, I argue that the current model will not be financially sustainable and has little room for growth. I will not discuss (a) because any third-tier will bridge the gap. Similarly I will not speak about (c) as this has nothing to do with the competition model. I will talk about (b) and (d), while adding my own section – sustainability – as (e).
Criteria B: Create high quality broadcast content
A university competition is unique
|Division I||Division II||Division III|
|Sydney University||University of Western Sydney||University of Tasmania|
|University of NSW||University of Newcastle||Charles Darwin University (NT)|
|Macquarie University (NSW)||University of Wollongong||University of South Australia|
|University of Queensland||Griffith University (QLD)||University of Adelaide|
|Bond University (QLD)||James Cook University (QLD)||Monash University (VIC)|
|Queensland University of Technology||Curtin University (WA)||University of Melbourne|
|University of Western Australia||Edith Cowan University (WA)||RMIT University (VIC)|
|University of Canberra||Australian National University (ACT)||University of New England (NSW)|
This is in comparison to the current city-region based model, which adds to an over-saturated and oversupplied Australian sporting market. I do not wish to list off the number of NRL, AFL, A-League, Big Bash, ANZ Championship teams across the capital cities. It is already known that the Australian sporting landscape is the most competitive in the world.
Creating another city-region based national competition simply adds to an already diluted and saturated landscape. It is difficult to see whether rugby union, as the fourth most popular sport, can attract new legions of fans by creating a generic competition model. I can see the NRC attracting only rusted-on rugby supporters.
Students and alumni are an untapped and high value demographic
I have listed the numbers of students and alumni for Australia’s major universities. These numbers came from each University’s Wikipedia page, website, or annual reports (too many to provide reference).
|New South Wales||Macquarie University||38,747||2,350||150,000|
|Southern Cross University||14,858||939||50,000|
|University of New England||20,409||1,308||100,000|
|University of NSW||50,516||5,300||240,000|
|University of Newcastle||35,998||2,444||125,000|
|University of Sydney||49,020||3,081||280,000|
|University of Technology, Syd||29,842||2,682||170,000|
|University of Western Sydney||40,257||2,969||130,000|
|University of Wollongong||28,964||1942||120,000|
|Northern Territory||Charles Darwin University||22,083||1,421||30,000|
|Central Queensland University||20,000||1832||70,000|
|James Cook University||18,294||2,149||47,747|
|Queensland University of Technology||39,919||2,200||100,000|
|University of Queensland||46,826||6,892||210,000|
|University of Southern Queensland||27,337||1,668||80,000|
|University of the Sunshine Coast||8,904||722||12,000|
|South Australia||Flinders University||23,261||887||1,101|
|University of Adelaide||25,000||3,159|
|University of South Australia||35,046||3,100||180,000|
|Tasmania||University of Tasmania||26,783||1,226||60,000|
|La Trobe University||34,492||3,220||161,000|
|University of Melbourne||41,525||3,586||300,000|
|Western Australia||Curtin University||47,960||3,689||170,000|
|Edith Cowan University||22,274||1,758||140,000|
|University of Western Australia||23,052||1,717||80,000|
|Australian Capital Territory||Australian National University||18,514||3,819||70,000|
|University of Canberra||13,000||1,000||70,000|
The student-alumni demographic is not small. Current students are approximately one quarter of the total Australian alumni, indicating the massive numbers of students now passing through Australian universities. Rugby union could be the first sport to take advantage of this untapped demographic of spectator.
University teams could resonate more than artificial franchises
This is in contrast to the current model, in which there are nine new teams, some of which are named the “Sydney Stars”, “Melbourne Rising” and “Perth Spirit”. Can new fans get behind nine new artificial teams with rugby union in its current market position? Again, my worry is that the NRC will only attract rusted-on rugby supporters, which will affect the value of the competition to Fox Sports.
A university competition is content that does not conflict with Super Rugby
A perfect example is New Zealand’s ITM Cup and South Africa’s Currie Cup. With Super Rugby refusing to die, these once flagship competitions have been reduced to hugely expensive feeder competitions. They are also inefficient.
A perfect example is that a fan would in theory support both Canterbury Rugby and the Crusaders, despite them both representing the same area. Again, rusted-on supporters would support both, but an outsider may question why they must support two teams, when they both represent the same region.
A university competition on the other hand, does not interfere with the Super Rugby model. A person can support the University of Melbourne and the Melbourne Rebels, as opposed to the Melbourne Rebels and Melbourne Rising.
Criteria D: Enhance opportunities and development for clubs and partnerships
A university competition enhances opportunities for domestic expansion
A university competition on the other hand transfers the incentive of expansion to universities, who are given a national spotlight to promote themselves. This could allow rugby to be sustainably expanded into new cities and regions such as Adelaide, Hobart, Western Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Townsville.
But why would smaller universities want to get involved with rugby? If the competition was based on a three division promotion and relegation system (see first Table), it would provide the incentive for smaller universities to support rugby to gain nationwide coverage.
A unique partnership – University World Championships?
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C||Pool D|
|University of Cape Town||University of Sydney||University of Auckland||University of Queensland|
|University of California (Berkeley)||University of Oxford||Trinity College Dublin||University of Texas|
|Ecole Polytechnique ParisTech||University of Tokyo||University of Toronto||University of Cambridge|
|National University of Singapore||University of Hong Kong||Moscow State University||University of Otago|
I believe there is potential for such a competition. The benefit to rugby in Australia is that smaller universities are given a massive incentive to participate. Smaller universities, such as the University of Canberra, or Bond University, are suddenly given the opportunity to rub shoulders with elite universities and make business connections. They would invest in rugby domestically, to be given that opportunity.
Criteria “E” (my own criteria): It must be a sustainable competition structure
Universities have large untapped infrastructure
The current NRC setup does already have university assistance with Sydney Stars (Sydney University), QLD Country (Bond University), Canberra Vikings (University of Canberra), Perth Spirit (University of Western Australia) and North Harbour Rays (Macquarie University), however the remaining four teams have to rely upon capital being drawn from existing rugby resources, as opposed to drawing it from new resources.
This was illustrated when Eastwood decided to pull out of the Greater Sydney Rams consortium, arguing that there was no benefit to the clubs.
Over half of the teams in the NRC are associated and supported by a university, which illustrates that universities see this as a viable competition, beneficial to their interests. If Australian rugby wants a sustainable competition, than why not utilise a stakeholder which can provide financial support and infrastructure?
Universities are breeding grounds for future corporate support
Atlassian, which is now worth over $3.3 billion dollars, was created when Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar were studying at the University of NSW.
So what do modern day companies have to do with rugby? If Australian rugby is proactive, it could have the opportunity to leverage off the companies of the future. A university competition is the first step to building Australian rugby’s connection with future industry, which could sustain the code for decades.
Unfortunately, I do not believe the ARU has the ability to take this long-term view (how Super Rugby has not been turned into a Champions League, but is instead being expanded to Singapore is a perfect example). However, I believe that if the ARU continues down its current path, rugby will continue to remain in a perilous state.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
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