Top Five Stories Of 2020: Rugby
ith the end of this challenging year fast approaching, Ministry of Sport will highlight the top five stories from each major sport in 2020 over the course of December, starting with Rugby.
Rugby Australia, was revitalised mid-way through the year after confirming a new domestic broadcast rights deal with Fox Sports to see the return of the reworked Super Rugby AU competition in July.
This saw rugby return to action in Australia with the five Australian Super Rugby clubs playing each other twice before a two-week play-off round, with the grand final taking place in September.
Due to the financial pressures of COVID-19 and the strain on the travel industry, Rugby Australia was hit by a bombshell with its principal sponsor, Qantas, ending its 30-year partnership.
This left Rugby Australia with an estimated $20 million gap in funds while already under financial stress and searching for a new TV broadcast rights deal for 2021.
Rugby Australia targeted a $15 million reduction in operating costs as part of an operational restructure and managed to save $5.5 million by cutting roughly one-third of its full-time staff.
Interim CEO, Rob Clarke, said the cuts were extremely difficult, but were essential to protect Wallabies funding going forward.
In April, Rugby Australia CEO, Raelene Castle resigned after being told by Rugby Australia that the organisation needed “clear air”.
“In the last couple of hours, it has been made clear to me that the board believes my no longer being CEO would help give them the clear air they believe they need,” Castle said.
Despite all the challenges, it wasn’t all bad for Rugby Australia, with the November announcement of a three-year, $100 million broadcast deal with Nine Entertainment CO.
The broadcast deal helped cornerstone the announcement of Stan Sport, also ending a 25-year partnership with Foxtel, meaning Super Rugby will feature on free-to-air TV for the first time in its history.
“Rugby has found its new home on Stan and the Nine Network, with broad reach on free-to-air television as well as ad-free, extensive access on the Stan platform,” interim CEO, Rob Clarke said.
“The fantasy has become a reality for the Australian rugby community.
“This is a landmark deal that includes everything in the showbag, and it gives more Australians more access to more rugby than ever before.
“Australian rugby is transforming with an exciting future ahead, and this innovative partnership enables us to fast-track that growth from the grassroots up as well as showcase and promote the game like never before,” he said.
Overall, Rugby Australia entered 2020 off the back of the Israel Folau saga, with a lot of financial trouble already hanging over their head before the global pandemic, COVID-19.
To finish the year with such a high level of certainty in a three-year, $100 million free-to-air broadcast deal, that also includes an option for a two-year extension, is undoubtedly a success.