Sports

Private equity in Australian rugby union? The answer is simple



There is so much scrutiny around private equity in the game of rugby union in Australia, but the answer is simple.

The Six Nations have it, so too do South Africa and New Zealand. They are seven of the top ten nations in World Rugby. They have financial backing.

It’s not a matter of if but when. 

If and when Australia secure the Rugby World Cup rights for both the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup, how much more is private equity worth to Rugby Australia and the rugby community?

If you believe the articles (pro and con), they have to wait until all is final and then strike.

Rugby Australia was in trouble long before COVID hit. In fact, I’d go so far to say it actually brought on a cost-cutting exercise that needed to happen at Rugby HQ.

Having said that, it has impacted player retention like no other nation.

For those who are unaware, pre COVID-19, Rugby Australia had a corporate overhead of the vicinity of that of the RFU, which was in excess of $20 million per year.

Andrew Kellaway. (Photo by Getty Images)

(Photo by Getty Images)

In comparison, those outside of Australia and England were at almost 60 per cent less of corporate overheads. Wow, that’s a difference.

Both the Irish and Welsh rugby unions have grown and the Scottish will have a competitive team for the World Cup as they have had to overcome similar hurdles.

It’s right to wait for the announcement of both Rugby World Cups. This is the injection rugby union in Australia needs, but where do the funds go?

There are four key areas:

1. Professional/elite
2. Grassroots
3. Promotion 
4. Administration and management

It’s clear that four is fourth. We all agree.

But where do one to three stand?

If private equity has given a boost to northern hemisphere rugby – which was already huge anyway, and which I assume had a ten to 20 per cent increase on their initial $509 million investment for 14 per cent as published – then it has to be done.

The biggest issue in Australia is the promotion of the sport. It is a product that has key strengths across all codes.

It has an opportunity for all sizes (still), a skill set for all hand-on-ball sports, and has an environment that suits both men and women.

To promote this code, especially at its lowest ebb, is without a doubt a good investment.

There are four football codes in Australia and all of them have a place, but rugby union has a global market that supports all codes when other codes won’t (with the exception of football, of course).

Springboks

(Photo by Juan Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Between 1991 and 2003, rugby union was battling with the NRL and the AFL. Football was nowhere to be seen in a professional sense on the Australian landscape.

The 2003 World Cup final in Australia had 4.3 million viewers in Australia alone. It was one of the highest TV audiences ever. Cathy Freeman was the highest.

Since then, rugby has gone downhill. There is no sugar coating that part.

We all whinge about the referees, especially with cards. The 20-minute red card needs to be adopted, but won’t be, due to the fact the northern hemisphere want blow-outs. But for God’s sake, tackle lower.

As much as I hate an accidental-contact-to-the-head card, lower your height. It’s basic cause and effect.

But back to the article, these funds must be distributed to the grassroots and there most certainly needs to be greater promotion of the code.

If no-one knows about it, they can’t watch it.

Super Rugby and club rugby have been fantastic this season, but unless you’re a rusted-on fan, you wouldn’t know about it.

Noah Lolesio of the Brumbies runs with the ball during the round 10 Super Rugby Pacific match between the Highlanders and the ACT Brumbies at AAMI Park on April 24, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

(Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

I’d even go so far as to promote the scrum and not deride it.

It is such a great part of the sport and the power is extraordinary. I would certainly not allow more than one reset, but other than that, let it play and promote the technical side of what is: a great sporting contest.

Obviously the elite, professional part of the equation is important.

As the great David Campese has stated on Thursday, “one thing the Super Rugby teams should realise is that younger kids are looking for idols”.

The faces are becoming more familiar due to some recent successes, but when the World Cups are secured and private equity has come into effect, let’s promote the hell out of it.



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