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SBD Global/June 19, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Australian Rugby Union Facing Tough Times As It Battles For Relevancy In Crowded Market

As the British & Irish Lions prepare to visit Australia again, rugby union "finds itself struggling for relevance in one of the most competitive sporting markets in the world," according to Neil Hume of the FINANCIAL TIMES. Audiences and attendances "are falling and the sport finds itself outgunned by the country’s two other 'codes' -- Australian rules football and rugby league -- which are using billion-dollar TV deals to fund an aggressive push into the rugby heartlands of New South Wales and Queensland." The Australian Rugby Union "plans to use a multimillion-dollar windfall from the Lions tour to stabilise its finances and deliver a raft of initiatives it hopes can invigorate the game." However, whether this will be enough to get rugby back on its feet "remains open to question." There are "a number of reasons for rugby’s waning fortunes." Fusion Strategy Managing Dir Steve Allen said that the most important issue "is the performance of the national side, currently ranked number three in the world." Allen: "In Australia, if you don’t look like winners, then people just don’t bother." Rugby faces "serious challenges that were highlighted in a report" published last year by former Minister of Sport Mark Arbib. Arbib "also drew attention to the parlous state of the game’s finances." Arbib: "Rugby faces some serious financial challenges. The ARU’s capital reserves have been in decline over the past decade and most of the Super Rugby teams are in a weak financial position." None of this is lost on ARU CEO Bill Pulver, a former marketing exec. Pulver: "There is always a correlation between the performance of your elite teams and participation and growth in revenue. And we have had a bit of a tough period for the past decade and yet our participation has held up and our financial performance, while it could be better, is improving" (FT, 6/17).
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