Extra teams in a revamped Super Rugby competition slated for 2016 will actually mean fewer games in the season rather than more, but will still boost broadcast revenues, New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said yesterday.
The southern hemisphere tournament’s governing body SANZAR has agreed in principle to add a sixth team from South Africa and a first from Argentina to add to the five each from Australia and New Zealand from 2016 when a new broadcast agreement is expected to begin.
The plan has raised concerns about player welfare in the world’s most sprawling provincial rugby tournament, but Tew said the format would actually mean a shorter season and that players would be no worse off in terms of travel.
“The travel will be no worse than it is now and in fact, if this is all agreed, we will have one less week of Super Rugby, which we think is a win for New Zealand rugby,” Tew told reporters in a conference call. “Starting a week later means we might start in March rather than February... Or we might take a week extra in June to allow players to recover and prepare for a Test match. We don’t want the season to be any longer and we don’t want any more games than we are playing... interestingly, Australia would like it to be considerably longer and South Africa quite a bit shorter, so there has to be some compromise.”
The current 15-team format is heavy on “derbies” between sides and split into three country conferences, with the winner of each automatically given a berth in the playoffs.
Tew confirmed there would be less derby games, which Australia claim have boosted interest in the competition, but which New Zealand and South Africa have been lukewarm about.
“If you look at the historical evidence, they [New Zealand franchises] were banking more income when they had less games and if you talk about the derbies being the big money-spinners, well actually all they’ve done is move the money from other games into the derbies,” Tew said. “We question whether it’s a natural flow... that less games means less income. That’s why we’re comfortable we’ve landed with a structure that has one less week.”
Tew said the extra South Africa team was important because of the proportion of broadcast revenues the country brought to the table.
“If we took the cost of South Africa out and netted it against the income we would be seriously worse off, so from a financial point they are important, but equally important, anyone we talk to in coaching and high performance believe our young athletes need to play South African teams before they start playing Test matches. So we think they are vitally important from a rugby perspective too,” he said.
Tew also backed Argentina’s continued participation in the four-nation Rugby Championship with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, despite their failure to win a match in the two tournaments since joining in 2012.
He said bringing an Argentine team into Super Rugby was imperative to make the Pumas more competitive.
“They already have a price on broadcasting for a Super Rugby team and they are telling us if they can’t bring the next generation of players away from Europe before they get there to play in a Super team, then they won’t survive in the [Rugby] Championship,” Tew said.