Cash the key to a bigger Super 14
Bret Harris | February 05, 2008,00.html

ARU chief executive John O'Neill launched the Super 14 series at the Mint in Sydney yesterday, an appropriate venue, considering the speculation about the need for Australian rugby to generate more income.

One of O'Neill's audacious plans to make more money for the game is to expand the Super 14 series. But it faces two logistical impediments in the form of New Zealand's National Provincial Championship and the Currie Cup in South Africa.

O'Neill has floated the idea of playing two rounds of Super rugby instead of one, which makes perfectly good sense from an Australian perspective.

But sceptics will say that will never happen because New Zealand and South Africa will not give up their national provincial competitions, which are steeped in tradition and history.

The New Zealanders and South Africans also have good commercial reasons for maintaining the two national competitions.

Under SANZAR's broadcast agreement with News Limited, publisher of The Australian, New Zealand and South Africa receive a bigger slice of the pie than Australia because the two competitions are included in the deal as pay-TV product.

The ARU, on the other hand, was unable to secure television income for the Australian Rugby Championship, which was the main reason it was axed.

But if O'Neill can convince the ARU's SANZAR partners that they will be better off financially with an expanded Super rugby format, he may yet be able to sell the idea when the broadcast rights are renegotiated.

An expanded Super 14 series would potentially be worth considerably more to New Zealand and South Africa than their national provincial competitions.

Like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa need to generate significantly greater income to prevent more top players migrating to the rich fields of the northern hemisphere, a trend that has the potential to damage the standard and appeal of the game in the southern hemisphere.

"We are nowhere near a point in this exercise to be prescriptive about what's the preferred option," O'Neill said.

"All we are saying is, from our perspective, Super rugby deserves to be expanded, not necessarily by number of teams, but by number of rounds.

"Currently, we end up with a very sporadic season. Fifteen weeks of Super rugby, then problematical inbounds (Tests) and then Tri-Nations.

"We are saying if, you could fill the June-July window ... people say that's a great idea ... how you do it would take a lot of work between ourselves, New Zealand and South Africa.

"Everyone would have to agree. It may well take, and I stress may, the acceptance that a number of competitions of the sort you mentioned would be played coincidentally (with the Super 14)."

O'Neill said a lot of work needed to be done to determine whether two rounds of Super rugby were economically sound.

"It may be that two rounds, because of the travel component, is not feasible," O'Neill said.

"Maybe, it's one and a half rounds with the half round being local derbies."

O'Neill said it was fitting that the Super 14 was launched on the same day as the Super Bowl in the US because rugby union had much to learn from the NFL.

"The NFL breaks itself up into conferences," he said. "There's always the option, if Super rugby became 16 teams, you might go to two pools of eight, which is essentially two conferences.

"There are things that the NFL does that we are going to go back and have a look at.

"The thing that the NFL does from a philosophical standpoint is they ensure that every team is equally funded. No one gets an advantage in terms of funding."