- 74 Matches in 2013 – 148 matches in 2014
- Costs $80,000 in 2013 – $160,000 in 2014
- Costs can be offset by sponsorhip and broadcast revenue
- Competition to run alongside The Rugby Championship
- Two divisions per city with promotion / relegation
- Consists of existing third tier clubs supplemented by new clubs
Recently I’ve been watching some games from the ITM Cup in New Zealand and the Currie Cup in South Africa. I know those competitions have long histories but I’m a new viewer and I must say I’ve been impressed with some great rugby.
With a break in The Rugby Championship this week my thoughts have again turned to whether we need such a competition in Australia and if so, how could we make it work.
The plan from Balmain’s Warren Livingstone for a third tier competition is the only plan I’ve seen recently with any real detail behind it. There are elements of that plan that will lead to opposition from some of the people who currently run the game at national, state and club levels. There are also elements of the plan I don’t support, but what I do support is someone attempting to do something rather than doing nothing. Unfortunately, any plan that isn’t supported by the existing key players in the game is unlikely to succeed.
In writing this proposal I decided that to do justice to it I would have to include a fair bit of detail so I’ve summarised the proposal in this article and included links to each detailed section. If an issue grabs your attention in this summary please take the time to read the detailed notes by following the link to that section.
My proposal includes an additional 74 matches in 2013 (including 12 finals) at a cost of $80,000, increasing to 148 matches in 2014 (including 24 finals) at a cost of $160,000. Those costs assume no revenue from sponsorship or broadcast rights.
Hopefully this summary grabs your attention enough that you choose to read the complete detailed proposal, which you can download here.
THE UNDERLYING ISSUES
For me there are five key issues that need to be addressed when considering the question of a third tier competition:
- Do we need a third tier competition? Yes — and the establishment of such a competition should be a priority.
- Should we find the money for such a competition, regardless of costs? No — the competition can only be established if costs can be controlled.
- Should such a competition be age-based? No — the competition should give the best players the opportunity, regardless of age.
- Would private ownership enhance such a competition? Yes — and there must be flexibility to accommodate this option.
- Should such a competition be club-based? Yes.
Read my discussion notes on these points here.
A lot of people have come up with suggestions for a third tier competition. I’ve read a lot of them and looked at the models in New Zealand and South Africa, so when I say this is ‘my proposal’ it really involves pulling together the thoughts and objections of many, as well as adopting ideas from other competitions. If I’ve grabbed one of your ideas, all credit to you and I hope I’ve used your idea in a way you agree with.
My detailed discussion paper on the following points can be downloaded here.
Costs are the big issue with any proposal for a third tier competition, particularly for travel. Much like when the ITM Cup was launched in 1976, I’ve proposed a staged approach with:
- a Northern Conference (Sydney and Brisbane) being introduced in year one;
- a Southern Conference (Melbourne and Canberra) being added in year two;
- a cross-conference series after three or four years;
- a national competition including Perth after five or six years.
Whilst I’d love to see a more comprehensive competition established immediately, we have to take a medium- to long-term approach if we are to improve the standing of Australian rugby on the world stage. I don’t think the ‘if you build it they will come’ approach is appropriate.
See Section 1 of the discussion paper here for more on this topic.
There is no real window in the calendar for a new competition between existing club rugby competitions and the Super Rugby and TRC competitions.
My proposed competition requires a window of nine weeks, and the only way that could be accommodated would be to bring the existing club competitions in Australia forward by around five weeks.
The proposed 2013 competition would run at roughly the same time as TRC, commencing on 24 August and concluding on 12 October.
See Section 2 of the discussion paper here for more on this topic.
The competition would involve two divisions in each city. Division one in each city would consist of five teams and division two would have seven teams playing in an intra-city round-robin series. The top-performing teams from division one in each city would progress to inter-city conference finals.
The competition would provide 62 matches in the round-robin series and 12 finals matches in each conference.
Each team in division one would play each other once and have one bye in a round-robin series over five weeks.
Each week the two matches in division one would be played as a double-header at the nominated home ground of one of the division one teams. With five round-robin matches to be played, each team would host one double-header during the competition.
The proposed draw for the division one competition is included in Section 3.1 of the discussion paper here.
In the final two weeks of the competition the top two teams in each city (based on points from the round-robin series and a countback if necessary) would play semi-finals, a play-off final and a grand final. These final matches would be inter-city contests within the conferences.
The division one semi-finals would be played as part of a triple-header with the finals of the division two competition in that city. The finals matches would be played at the same ground the grand final of the local premier competition is played.
The grand final would rotate between the two cities in a conference each year with the play-off final being played in the other city on a rotational basis as well. The inaugural grand final location would be determined by public draw.
This structure would provide a double-header between top teams in each city each week together with triple-header finals in each city in each of the two finals weeks to help attract broadcasters.
To give you an idea of how the structure would work here’s the structure for the 2013 Northern Conference — if we assume Sydney comes out of the hat to host the inaugural grand final.
With seven teams in division two there would be three matches each week in the round-robin series. This would allow each team to host two weekends at their home ground – one a double-header and the other a single match.
The proposed draw for the division two competition is included in Section 3.2 of the discussion paper here.
See Section 3 of the discussion paper here for more on this topic.
The participants in the competition would include a mixture of some new teams and all of the teams in the premier competition in each city – Shute Shield teams in Sydney, Hospital Cup teams in Brisbane, John I Dent Cup teams in Canberra and Dewar Shield teams in Melbourne.
Participation in division one would hopefully be the aim of every team in the competition, but the rules and structure of this competition would reward those teams that have rugby programs that are the equivalent of a professional team, which for many existing teams will mean spending money to develop those programs.
This will no doubt create a situation where there are a group of stronger teams and weaker teams. I make no apologies for that – my proposal is that if Australia is to be a top-class rugby nation well into the future we have to improve our depth and systems. What I hope is that smaller, less resourced teams would take up the challenge and improve their programs to compete with stronger teams. At the end of the day the division one competition wouldn’t be about participation by all – if a team were happy with just participating, they would likely remain in division two.
The only way a smaller, less resourced team could achieve a step up to compete with larger, better resourced teams would be to introduce some new resources – financial, personnel, organisational, marketing, etc. That would most likely involve attracting investors, or joint venturing with a strong non-premier grade team (such as Sydney’s Balmain) or a group of teams.
See Section 4 of the discussion paper here for more on this topic.
Promotion and Relegation
The five division one teams in each city would consist of:
- the winner of division one in that city in the previous year;
- the teams that finished first and second on the ladder at the end of the regular season in the premier competition in that city the previous year (but if the winner of division one was one of those teams, then the team that finished third would be included); and
- the teams that finished first and second in division two in that city the previous year (but if the winner of division one was one of those teams, then the team that finished third in division two would be included).
This would ensure that the division one champion would always defend their title the following year, and provide incentive for two teams to gain promotion each year to division one. This would assist the clubs in division two to attract sponsors, supporters and players if they are a good prospect of gaining promotion to division one.
See Section 5 of the discussion paper here for more on this topic.
In division two all teams would also contest a shield in each city. That shield could only be won by defeating the team that holds it at the time. The holder of the shield at the conclusion of the round-robin series each year would retain the shield and defend it in the first round of the division two competition the following year.
See Section 6 of the discussion paper here for more on this topic.
Costs And Revenue
The costs for the ARU only start to kick in once the division one finals series starts. On both weekends of the finals series one team from each city in each conference would have to travel to the other city on a fly-in, fly-out basis.
The ARU would have to cover the travel costs of a party of 33, including 25 players and eight coaching and support staff. The budget over the two weekends of the finals totals $80,000 in 2013 for the Northern Conference (Sydney and Brisbane), increasing to $160,000 in 2014 once the Southern Conference (Melbourne and Canberra) commences.
Does anyone think it’s not possible the ARU can find a sponsor to take naming rights for this competition at a cost of $80,000 in 2013 (increasing to a still-modest $160,000 each year thereafter) to fund an east coast third tier competition? I don’t.
Could the ARU sell this concept to a broadcaster, even if only for the four division one final matches on each of two weekends when the only football being played in competition is the A*League? I expect so.
If Balmain are targeting a $1 million winner-takes-all prize for their proposed competition, that gives us an idea of the minimum target the ARU should have in sponsorship and broadcast revenue for this proposed competition.
The surplus of sponsorship or sales to broadcasters above the costs could be used to provide a cash prize for the winners of both divisions in each city, and the balance should then be distributed to the teams in both divisions in each city (to a maximum of 12 teams per city). Those funds will help each team to improve their rugby program for the following season — which, at the end of the day, is the purpose of this whole proposal.
In the unlikely event that the ARU can’t raise any revenue from sponsors and broadcasters, should it fund the $160,000 costs for this competition? Yes! This sort of project is exactly what the bonus of the millions in broadcast revenue from next year’s Lions tour should be used for.
See Section 7 of the discussion paper here for more on this topic.
This competition could start in Sydney and Brisbane in 2013. With the Lions tour in June and July we can expect that rugby in Australia will receive a much-needed publicity boost and the introduction of this new competition could take advantage of that publicity.
All that is required to make this happen in 2013 is for the NSWRU and QRU to convince their existing premier clubs to agree to start the local competitions earlier. There are already twelve premier teams in Sydney and the QRU would only have to invite an extra two teams in to fill the quota of twelve in Brisbane. I’m very confident that both Logan and Darling Downs would not take much convincing to enter a team in division two in Brisbane next year – after all, they have until August next year to prepare.
I doubt the Melbourne and Canberra competitions could be organised to start before 2014, due to the requirement for up to seven extra teams to be arranged between the two competitions, but if it can be done we could have a third tier competition on the east coast up and running next year with no costs for the ARU.
Whilst I’m involved as a coach with an existing premier club in Brisbane I haven’t discussed this proposal with anyone at the club, nor anyone at Green & Gold Rugby, so this is not a self-serving proposal. It’s what I think we can and should do, for the long-term betterment of Australian rugby.