The Growden Report
SANZAR officials targeting Bill Pulver
May 5, 2014
Dave Dennis says the expanded Super Rugby model is "a bit all over the shop, to be honest" © Getty Images
Three cheers for Dave Dennis. The New South Wales Waratahs captain deserves applause not just being the only Australian provincial skipper to experience a weekend triumph but for also publicly questioning SANZAR's misguided expansion plan. Dennis is a spade-is-a-spade man. So when asked for his thoughts of the new Super Rugby format, involving an expanded four-conference model, more teams and fewer local derbies, Dennis as usual said it straight.
"It's a bit all over the shop, to be honest," the Wallabies back-rower said of the Super 18 proposal. "I had a look at it, briefly, but didn't quite grasp the concept to understand it too much. I really enjoy this competition at the moment with the local derbies and the value they create in terms of the rivalry between the Australian teams. The fans enjoy those matches. You look at the attendance, you tend to get bigger crowds."
Luckily for Dennis, he did not study the new Super Rugby format more closely; had he done so he would have discovered it is not just all over the shop but a complete dog's breakfast. Trying to comprehend how this competition is going to attract already bewildered spectators and broadcasters is as simple as wrestling with an octopus.
The art of a good tournament is to be spectator friendly. Super Rugby has not been that for a long time. It has failed to attract so many fans because the names are too confusing, and the format lopsided. With the addition of three more teams, another conference, and more "who cares" games played in the middle of the night, it just becomes more perplexing.
Don't believe me?
Go and ask someone down the street where the Lions come from, the Cheetahs, the Stormers, even the Hurricanes. The majority will look at you with blank looks, and ponder whether you're talking Martian. Three more wacky names, and an even more unbalanced competition will just add to that confusion.
Content is fine. But it actually has to mean something. And don't be bluffed into believing that the broadcasters love this expansion plan, which includes two South African conferences. High-ranking sources have told ESPNscrum that Fox Sports executives were far from ecstatic when the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) "jumped the gun" and revealed the expansion details. Impeccable sources claim that several important broadcasting executives were "furious".
The broadcasters are deeply unimpressed with the "lack of dialogue" with SANZAR before the plans were made public. And Australian and New Zealand broadcasters are irked that SANZAR has basically pandered to South Africa's desires. One broadcasting executive said: "Do they realise that [SANZAR] have just given South Africa exactly what they want? Two Currie Cup competitions."
Due to this, Supersport - the powerful South African broadcasters who highly value the Currie Cup - will not pay as much for the Super Rugby component, which means the broadcasting share for which the ARU is so desperately waiting will be less not more.
And if the ARU fails to get an improved broadcasting deal, the five Australian franchises will become militant - especially as many of them have already voiced their disapproval at the expansion plans. One Super Rugby chief executive told The Australian that the four-conference model was "bizarre, complicated and convoluted".
"It's a competition that would sit quite comfortably with the 206-page law book of the International Rugby Board," the chief executive said.
He is 100% right.
There were even suggestions over the weekend of an ARU board overthrow.
Also Australia, widely known as the weak-kneed third partner in the SANZAR alliance, did not help their cause in being the first to provide the fine details during the week. Heated emails from SANZAR officials have been flying between Cape Town, Wellington and Sydney, complaining that ARU officials released "confidential material" regarding the new model. Angry SANZAR officials have specifically targeted ARU chief executive Bill Pulver.
The next SANZAR meeting will be a volatile affair. And Australia will undoubtedly lose out.
Let's just hope for the sake of the game that the broadcasters - in particular the Australian contingent - avoid such a mess by telling SANZAR exactly where to shove their silly ideas. Thankfully the broadcasters have that power. And it's time they used it.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd