News surfaced over the weekend of the impending doom surrounding the finances of the Western Force, with a report suggesting it was on track to lose some $2.8M dollars this year. At its most hysterical, there were even suggestions the franchise may not be viable and was in danger of going bankrupt.
How much of this story is a bargaining gambit to persuade the WA government to shell out the required funds to upgrade Perth’s only semi-suitable rectangle stadium remains to be seen, however it is clear there is no shortage of red ink in the West.
As part of a co-ordinated assault from both the WARU and the ARU, John O’Neill, described the ARU’s commitment to WA rugby as ‘unambiguous,’ but I wonder if that support may change should the totally ‘ambiguous’ SANZAR negotiations fall through and the Jappies are no longer part of Super 14 rugby.
Only three days earlier the ARU’s Little Prince was extolling the virtues of a new Trans-Tasman, Asia-Pacific competition, should the current impasse with the South Africans fail to be resolved.
So how does this brave new Super rugby proposal reconcile with O’Neill’s total support for a team on the outer limits of the trans-Tasman region? Simply, it doesn’t.
O’Neill is keen to control costs, and one thing that would scare him is the costs associated with having a rugby team in the West. With dwindling crowd figures and memberships and corporate support for the team all heading South, there is no way the Force can be self sufficient financially and so, they would represent an on-going burden for the ARU.
There is no doubt that Australia needs a fourth Super rugby team but there is sufficient doubt as to whether it needs five – enter Melbourne. Melbourne has long been an untapped rugby market and one that could be run at a substantially lower cost than the geographically isolated Perth in the new competition format.
The only really successful team to come out of the defunct ARC was the Melbourne Rebels. The Melbourne based team consistently had good crowd figures and they were able to mobilise plenty of corporate financial muscle to lure a decent group of players who very nearly won the competition.
With the Force in disarray both on and off the field, falling gate receipts and the drying up of the mining dollars, it maybe time for the ARU to cut the struggling franchise loose and make the move East.
Ominously, John O’Neill was recently quoted as saying.
“We’ve got to get the Force in the black as soon as possible. The ARU is not a lender of last resort”
Perhaps there will be a few more than just Gits and Drew Mitchell packing their bags next year.