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Super Rugby Tops The Endangered Species List

I sat down to watch the Super Rugby Quarter-Final match between the Sharks and the Hurricanes last weekend having largely ignored the competition this season. I was struck by the low attendance of spectators at a quarter final in a rugby-mad country. I recalled with nostalgia how important this competition was for me when I was growing up, it was a competition my friends and I aspired to play in and as spectators we would never have missed a single game.

I recall the original Super-12 rugby competition. This was a mouthwatering opportunity to see South Africa’s best rugby players in action playing against the best in Australia and New Zealand. I recall fondly attending games with my dad, and waking up in the early hours of the morning to watch South African teams play in New Zealand.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 04: Ben Smith and Nasi Manu of the Highlanders hold up the trophy following the Super Rugby Final match between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders at Westpac Stadium on July 4, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

It is sad to think that a rugby mad individual such as myself would one day completely shun a competition that I loved so dearly, and that still evokes so much emotion in me and it would appear that I am not the only one of that opinion which is why the fans are staying away.

In my opinion Super Rugby as a product has lost its value as a brand, and its value as the premier rugby competition. From a business perspective it is losing its appeal to the sports fans.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JANUARY 16: The new Super 12 rugby jerseys for the 2000 season modelled by their teams halbacks. Highlanders Brett McCormack, left, Crusaders Aaron Flynn, Blues Mark Robinson, Hurricanes Jason Spice and Chiefs Rhys Duggan. (Photo by Barry Durrant/Getty Images)

The question one needs to ask is why?

It would appear that poor sports administrators, the way sports are managed and greed could be some of the causes. In SANZAAR’s case the initial expansion of the competition to include 2 more sides in the premier competition and rename it the “Super 14” appears to have been the start of this slippery slope towards a possible extinction.

Many would argue that the Super 12 was in essence merely an expansion of the “Super 10”, which itself was an expansion of the “Super 6’s”. So the question then is: why were the administrators wrong to think that the increase of the competition to include 18 sides would be as successful as the initial expansion to Super 12 was?

The truth is that the writing was on the walls with the reworked and revamped Super 14 competition, and the crowds were already starting to show revolt. The difficulty for the administrators were that instead of downsizing the competition and actively making it a more valuable proposition they decided to dilute it further.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 23: The Force line up for an ANZAC remembrance ceremony before the round nine Super Rugby match between the Force and the Waratahs at nib Stadium on April 23, 2016 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

 

It is sad to say that far too often in the history of sports we have seen sports administrators who are failed businessmen with a few connections get placed in these roles. They do not prioritise the game ahead everything but rather think of themselves, and sadly for SANZAAR their competition is in dire straights. Super Rugby is in a situation where the product they have no longer attracts viewers, sponsors or crowds in the way it did in the past, and it won’t be long until the TV rights deals are no longer the size they currently are and this is bad news for Southern Hemisphere Rugby.

The growth of Super Rugby and its current format has diluted the brand, its value and the product; rugby. It has taken away any sense of achievement when playing in this competition and it has become a competition and product I am very happy not to watch or consume.

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 24: Hika Elliot of the Chiefs packs down for a scrum during the round 15 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Crusaders at Waikato Stadium on May 24, 2013 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The only way I see a solution to solve the current situation is to cut the competition into a two-tier structure. The premier competition could run the way it used to with 8-10 teams being in a premier division. The bottom 8 teams could play in a play-off for qualification into the premier league.

This will have a positive effect on crowd attendance and sponsorships, which will hopefully ignite a resurgence of passion for the sport, the community and the teams.

Super Rugby is an endangered species and if the administrators do not make a concerted effort to be more innovative and less greedy this competition will find itself facing extinction, and this won’t be good for the Southern Hemisphere, nor for the game of rugby union as a whole.

About Gareth Maritz

A former professional rugby player, coach and rugby entrepreneur.

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