Hallelujah! It looks like the New Zealand Rugby Union have finally seen the light! What’s more, they could be setting a good example for other sports to follow. This has been brought about by the need to respond to an ever changing Covid-19 international environment and the need to bring certainty to the game, players, Unions, franchises, sponsors, fans and most important, income.
With the uncertainty of international travel over the next eighteen months, hence the lack of Super and test rugby with South Africa and Northern Hemisphere countries and discontinuation of the current Super Rugby, something had to change.
Gone is the 25-year relationship with South Africa. In, will be a new direction for 2021 and beyond at the Super Rugby level, which will look to incorporate options for an Asia-Pacific competition and new private equity partners.
As NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson has said, “The reality is that the impact of Covid (19) has been so significant that we’ve had to look at alternatives and a new direction here.”
What that new direction will be is still to be determined but it is likely to involve Australia and Pacific teams. Clearly, when NZ starts to expand its bubble, it will involve those nationals, meaning ease of travel with less quarantine restrictions.
Why the great hurrah? Well, the grandstands answer that one.
Look at the high attendance since rugby restarted post-lockdown and compare it to a Super Rugby semi or final when there were plenty of empty seats. The problem pre-Covid-19 was that the TV deals were lucrative, set in place for the future and competitions went for too long, from February through to November.
Too much I say, but the obvious lack of attendance seemed to fall on deaf ears. That is the problem with long-term television deals, it is difficult to respond to the market place.
A positive from the toil and upheaval of Covid-19 is the reset and redirection that business, communities, societies and sport are having to take. Albeit at a significant cost. Reality sets in particularly when income is at stake.
Given this, is the New Zealand Rugby Union finally getting it right? Is their lead an example for other sports to follow?
You have to give them a kudos for reacting quickly, understanding the reality of life and sport post NZ lockdown and realising that NZ rugby would either have to change or die.
Yes, there is an example for the rest of use to follow and we already see this in motorsport. The best example of this is the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship that are adapting on the fly, escaping the lockdown in Victoria, now heading into Queensland and having to change the calendar to suit the ever changing environment as a second wave threatens to make an impact. But that is where the comparison with NZ Rugby stops.
What motorsport appears to be lacking, is planning for the future. It all seems as though we are expecting everything to go back to the way it was. At the moment the planning is all about the next few weeks and trying to complete a 2020 season.
As the late American businessman and former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch has said, “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.”
There is a need to see planning for the future in all categories, facing the ‘reality as it is’. What is the market wanting, how do we respond to that within an ever-changing environment.