Rugby Australia could still exit Super Rugby in 2024, with the governing body left disappointed after New Zealand Rugby backtracked on pledges.
“They were naughty boys,” RA chairman Hamish McLennan told foxsports.com.au.
It comes at a time when RA is calling for private equity deals that promise to put $100-200 million into the game.
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Almost six weeks ago, the long-time partners met in Adelaide ahead of Australia’s historic doubleheader against New Zealand’s Black Ferns and South Africa’s Springboks.
In the City of Churches, the NZR council, led by chief executive Mark Robinson, sat in a boardroom with their RA counterparts, trying to hammer out a deal that would secure their domestic future until 2030.
Robinson, NZR board members Bart Campbell and Bailey Mackey, as well as Blues chairman Don Mackinnon, were there to show whiteboard modeling of the way forward for Super Rugby Pacific.
They approached RA chief executive Andy Marinos, McLennan, director Matthew Hanning, Waratahs chairman Tony Crawford and Brumbies chairman Matt Nobbs.
At the heart of the meetings was the financial imbalance and how the two unions could once again make Super Rugby the envy of the world.
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Currently, there is a huge imbalance between the two broadcast deals, with RA’s deal with Stan/Nine being only $33 million a year. This figure is well below the estimated $100 million that Sky Sport will pay NZR.
So when Robinson came to the drawing board with his version of a 50-50 RA split, the governing body, with support from various stakeholders, agreed.
However, the tide has since changed and the NZR has put forward an alternative proposal.
With the Lions series on the horizon in 2025 and a domestic World Cup in 2027, as well as a private equity deal looming, RA believe they would be shooting themselves in the foot if they accepted the deal.
“The idea of that meeting in Adelaide was to get everyone together and try to do a deal,” Nobbs told foxsports.com.au.
“And they did some work, but they seemed to do some work before consulting their members.
“It seems that once they presented it to us, they went back to their members and said this is our RA proposal, and I think their members obviously went, wait, “I think you might have to try a little harder. and see if we can get a little more out of RA.”
Nobbs said the RAs and their Super Rugby franchises were just trying to achieve “parity”.
The Brumbies backbencher backed McLennan’s call that they would still consider forming their own domestic competition if an equivalent deal was not put forward.
“I think if you want to have a fair and equal partnership, which is what RA is trying to do, you don’t want a situation where you have a dominant partner,” he said.
“At the end of the day we have to try and make this the best provincial competition in the world and I don’t think it’s at the moment because I think if you look at the results of the Wallabies and the results of the Kiwis against Ireland the idea that it’s the best provincial competition in the world, no longer fits.
“I think those northern hemisphere nations have caught up with us.
“I personally think we have to work together to make it a really, really strong competition.
“For that to be possible, it has to be a fair and just partnership because you don’t want a dominant part trying to screw up the other.”
The tension comes as NZR tries to pressure RA into signing a private equity deal with Silver Lake.
After a year of negotiations, NZR signed a contract worth USD 180 million with the American company. A number of other associations, as well as the Six Nations, have signed contracts with the CVC.
It means NZR could be isolated if RA doesn’t sign an agreement with Silver Lake.
“I mean they’ve done a private equity deal on the condition that the Australian teams will be part of the Super Rugby competition moving forward,” Nobbs said.
While Nobbs admitted the two unions had time up their sleeves, he said it was vital the competition was “as tight and strong as we can”.
“It’s important to get it done, we have some time, but certainty is the main thing, especially when you have commercial departments that want to sit down with potential sponsors or partners,” he said.
“It’s a lot easier to turn around and say, ‘Listen, we’ve signed a deal with New Zealand rugby until 2030, the competition is here to stay. We will make it the best provincial competition in the world.”
“Then you suddenly have a much easier conversation with potential sponsors and investors than if you had a competition that runs year after year.”
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