Back

SANZAAR CEO, Brendan Morris Exclusive: “Our Goal Is To Stabilise The Game”

S
peaking to Ministry of Sport, SANZAAR CEO, Brendan Morris, discussed the impact COVID-19 has had on international sport competitions and how SANZAAR plans to bounce back in 2021 and beyond.

With Super Rugby competitions splitting up to domestic competitions such as the Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa, Morris said SANZAAR has had to act quickly with the changing environment.

“It’s been a challenging time for global economy and global culture, and sport is no different,” Morris told Ministry of Sport.

“We’re suffering the same challenges that businesses and people in everyday life are facing with the uncertainty.

“We saw on the weekend two or three people came down with the virus in Auckland and everything goes into chaos again.

“Where we will get to at the moment is where most of the people who work in sport will end up with opportunities to go and work for NASA, because I’m sure not this much scenario planning went into landing a man on the moon.

“We’re pretty confident with last years planning and foresight, we’re in a good spot to act nimbly and quickly if we have to.

“Particularly with Super Rugby, we’ve restructured it to be more domestic focused, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, which has its own challenges.

“Looking at the Australian conference at the moment, border restrictions between states are so different that we’ve got three or four people working around the clock on how we react to border restrictions changing at the drop of a hat.

“We’ve got an in-house travel agent called SANZAAR Travel, and they work really closely with the teams and the unions who are also working really closely with government agencies.

“We think we’re in a pretty good spot where, depending on major outbreaks, we’re reasonably confident we can run competitions with as minimal disruption as possible, particularly in Australia and New Zealand.

“Hopefully, one positive that came out of 2020 is a lot of hard work went into scenario planning to make it easier to deliver in 2021,” he said.

Talking about the impact COVID-19 has had on global sport, Morris said focusing on the strength of partnerships with both national rugby unions and commercial partners has been crucial.

“There’s no doubt like any business, the pandemic has hurt the sport of rugby and not just SANZAAR and the national unions we represent,” Morris said.

“Any business that takes such a high percentage of its revenue from broadcast and attendance is always going to be under a bit of strain.

“We’re not immune, we’re similar to global sport.

“We saw a Super Bowl with half of its attendance capability at stadiums; when global sport starts getting knocked around like that, with English Premier League having no crowds, Six Nations having no crowds, everybody’s under the same economic strain at the moment.

“Where we’re moving through these challenges is a focus on getting rugby back on the field.

“Our revenue streams are reduced, but at least we’ve got money coming in the door this year.

“Would we like more? Absolutely.

“We’re working with a number of broadcast partners at the moment particularly around rest of the world rights, and we’ve also got to be mindful our commercial partners are suffering the same challenges we are.

“In good times, we share the upside, and in bad times, we work together to ensure our partnerships stay strong and our national unions and franchises are not only sustainable but have a bright future.

“We’re working hard on those challenges and it changes day-to-day.

“The goal of SANZAAR is to work with the unions and grow the sport in the southern hemisphere.

“We don’t have direct input into participation, but we run the two biggest competitions in the southern hemisphere, and to do that we rely heavily on our relationships with national unions and commercial partners,” he said.

Looking at how SANZAAR’s strategy and goals have changed since the start of COVID-19 in February 2020, Morris said: “Our goal is to stabilise the game off the back of the very difficult 2020.”

“We’ve got a lot of work to do as an organisation in terms of what Super Rugby looks like, and how do we take the Rugby Championship forward.

“We’ve got a strategy document taking us through to 2030 which probably needs to be realigned given it was written before the pandemic.

“We’re not sure at the moment whether we will be able to achieve a normal Rugby Championship, but we showed last year with Tri Nations that a centralised model can work.

“On a bigger scale, where does SANZAAR and our national unions fit in terms of restructure of the global season?

“Working with World Rugby and not only the top 10 nations of the world but also the emerging nations, and how we can build rugby in those nations and take our product into new markets.

“Breaking into new markets opens up not only new commercial opportunities, but also a chance to grow the game.

“We’re very open minded as to what that looks like, whether it’s bringing new teams to our competitions, playing games in new markets.

“There’s a huge focus on that with our national unions, there’s an appetite to grow the Rugby Championship as well.

“There’s no secret over the last two years off the success of the Japan World Cup, key markets of growth for us are Asia and North America, and we’ve also got our partners in the Pacific Islands that are knocking on the door and we’ve got to find ways to incorporate those new markets and teams.

“We have to do our due diligence to ensure it stacks up from a high-performance and also a commercial perspective,” he told Ministry of Sport.