Can Australia Optimize its Hosting of the 2027 Rugby World Cup?

The Australian Rugby Association is starting to make plans to optimize its planned hosting of the 2027 Rugby World Cup  to secure the sport’s future in Australia.

 

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Announcement

The announcement that World Rugby is the preferred candidate to host the 2027 World Cup created an atmosphere of optimism among rugby fans, players, Ripper Casino enthusiasts and other sports fans in the country. Rugby Australia officials are describing the opportunity to “reboot” as a “once-in-a generation-opportunity” for the cash-strapped game but, say, observers, it shouldn’t be regarded not as a “golden fix” but rather as a way to energize the public and leave a legacy that will help secure rugby’s future in the country.

Pundits point to 2003 when Rugby Australia received $44 million to host the games in Sydney. John O’Neill, former RA chief executive, wanted to invest the money as the Australian Olympic Committee had invested their windfall after the 2000 Games in Sydney. But other stakeholders balked, preferring to fritter it away on programs and projects that would bring more instant satisfaction. The money quickly dwindled away.

Rugby Australia can’t make the same mistake twice say many rugby aficionados. They urge that 2027 World Cup earnings be invested in activities that will ensure the game’s financial growth in Australia and protect it against unforeseen occurrences (i.e. a worldwide pandemic)

If Rugby Australia had had such a future fund, say, critics of the 2007 fiasco, Rugby franchises and the grassroots would have had been cushioned these last few years when the drop in income was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced clubs to scramble to survive.

Learning Lessons

Rugby Australia seems to have learned the lesson. Harrish McLennan, chairman of Rugby Australia, announced that RA plans to put the Rugby World Cup 2027 funds into investments to “drive long-term sustainability.”

Observers point out that it’s not a good idea to rely on a once-every-20-year-windfall to keep the code afloat. Super Rugby franchises and the RA must take steps to ensure that any World Cup extra funds are looked at as a bonus, not as a lifeline. For Rugby Australia to fully capitalize on the 2027 event, the Association and others with a stake in the game must make sure that the game is on strong footing before the World Cup. Today, RA competes with Rugby League for popularity but today it is behind Australian Rules and Australian Football.

It will be another five years before the 2027 tournament. If Rugby Australia is to fully capitalise on a successful event, the game in this country must be in good shape to begin with or the anticipated bonanza may not eventuate.

In 2003, rugby was competing with rugby league for popularity, but the game is now arguably the fourth football code in Australia.

Moving Forward

The first task for Australian Rugby is to bring the players that fans want to watch. That means being prepared to pay for top tier players even though it involves a considerable increase in cost.  But that’s one example of how RA can invest any funds that it collects from the 2027 World Cup in creating a better Australian rugby code.

Analysts remind RA that in order to fill up the stadiums, fans need to feel a connection to their team so that they continue to support the team through good times and bad. A winning team always draws support but the infrastructure must be put into place to encourage support during losing times as well as winning periods.

RA and the Super Rugby franchises must find ways to improve their revenue streams. Clearly, this is easier said than done, but that is the unmet challenge facing the game.

Officials must remember that there’s a chain reaction going on here — a better team means bigger crowds which means bigger broadcast dollars which mean more sponsorship funds and more investment.

RA must also negotiate better deals with broadcasters. When RA signed its present deal with Nine Entertainment which gave it rights to Super Rugby and the Wallabies (both on subscription and free-to-air TV), it accepted a significant drop in revenue over its previous deals with Network Ten and Fox Sports. If the game is going to stay strong and healthy the RA needs to negotiate better terms next time around.

At present Nine Entertainment owns the broadcast rights to the Wallabies and Super Rugby, both on free-to-air and subscription TV. One possible solution might involve deals with separate free-to-air and subscription TV networks in order to leverage the product (unless one company was prepared to pay a premium for the rights to both.

Run-Up

In a Run-Up to the 2027 World Cup, Australia and New Zealand have both committed to playing at Rugby League World Cup in 2022. The tournament was originally set to take place this past summer but it’s been moved forward 12 months and Australia and New Zealand, which quashed the event when they pulled the originally scheduled tournament due to concerns about COVID-19, have signed legally binding participation agreements.

After the Kangaroos and the Kiwis backed out in 2020other participating countries’ relationships with the leagues in New Zealand and Australia became strained. Jon Dutton, Chief Executive · Rugby League World Cup 2021, has been working non-stop to rebuild the competition and restore an atmosphere of good will. “We all needed a break after August [when the competition was postponed],” he told The Guardian. ”We needed to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and come back positive. The agreements are as legally binding as any other contract we have in place. We have every nation signed and committed and we didn’t have that before. Dwelling on what might have been isn’t important anymore. Everyone now wants to look forward and make this happen.”

Dutton assured fans that, regardless of what the Covid situation looks like next fall, the tournament will not introduce its own policy regarding the vaccination status of players. “The rates both here and in Australia are heartening but regardless, we will adhere to whatever Public Health England rules are in place,” he said. “There will be nothing mandatory from our end in terms of vaccination status.”

Supporters of RA have already begun to urge the football code to start implementing many of the suggestions for the 2027 World Cup immediately in the lead-up to the 2022 games.

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