NZR review delivers scathing attack on Super Rugby’s commercial appeal

(Pita Simpson/Getty Images)
(Pita Simpson/Getty Images)

A review of the governance of New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has warned that the Super Rugby competition must be overhauled in order to become a viable commercial proposition.

The report commissioned by NZR on the back of its sale of commercial rights equity last year to Silver Lake for NZ$200m ($119m/€109m) has criticised a competition now shorn of South African teams and generating nominal revenues for the wider game in New Zealand.

Super Rugby now consists of 10 teams from Australia and New Zealand, plus one apiece from Fiji and a combined Pacific Islands nations team. South Africa's Stormers, Bulls, Lions and Sharks ditched their compatriots across the Indian Ocean to join the Northern Hemisphere's United Rugby Championship in 2021.

The report, which also found the current New Zealand Rugby Union constitution and consequent governance structures "not fit for purpose", flagged that the league’s relationship to New Zealand’s National Provincial Championship and its “pressing financial issues” are two of the central issues that must be addressed by the sport.

It continued: “If Super Rugby is to be a viable, commercially attractive competition that fans will want to re-engage with, difficult matters must be addressed and decisions made, as the current approach of ‘a bet both ways’ is simply not working.

“But the downstream reality of a commercial approach will not please everyone.

“The current competition was described to us as a ‘dog’s breakfast’. Fans are unclear on when the competition will start, which players are available and how they should relate to both Super Rugby and NPC. Super Rugby is in danger of becoming a television-only experience because the fans have not been put front and centre.”

The report questions whether Super Rugby Pacific – as it is now known – is “intended as a competition or a mechanism for talent development”. While questioning the financial model, the panel behind the report does cite “high-level information” that gives “some optimism about viewer numbers recovering”.

It also states that “no one wants NZR to ‘run’ Super Rugby nor is anyone seeking direct seats at the board table”.

On Super Rugby, the report concludes: “The recommendation to create a Stakeholder Council and the related appointment process addresses the need for greater input into decision making. But it does not detract from the reality that pursuit of high performance across both Super Rugby and the NPC competition is financially unsustainable and needs effective leadership to address.”

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