ARU chief executive Bill Pulver is confident the relaunched National Rugby Championship beginning in August can prove the doubters wrong and make a financial profit in its first year.
Nine teams from around the country, including four from NSW and two from Queensland, were confirmed on Monday as participants in the NRC.
The season will run for 11 weeks from late August and fill a void in the domestic calendar that was left when the Australian Rugby Championship went bust in 2007.
In its one-season existence, the ARC burnt a mammoth $5 million black hole in the ARU’s pockets and as a result, there’s been significant opposition to going back to the well with the NRC.
It’s hoped the introduction of another elite competition to run on the back of the Super Rugby season will boost player depth and quality in Australia.
And Pulver says with broadcaster Fox Sports and Foxtel pledging to cover the costs of the competition, and sponsors and financial guarantors backing up the teams, the business model of the NRC is sound compared to its predecessor.
“I’d be very disappointed if this competition didn’t at least break even in 2014 and I think we have a real opportunity moving forward to make money out of this competition,” Pulver said at a press conference on Monday.
“If you want to grow the revenue of the game, which is clearly something we’re interested in, and you recognise that broadcasting rights are a key component of that. You have an absolute obligation to create incremental quality broadcasting content.”
Half of each squad will be made up of Super Rugby players, and the other half the best local players available to each team.
A Wallabies ‘face’ will be assigned to each side, and Australian stars will play if released from international duties during that time.
Despite the potential star power that will be on show, getting fans through the gate from late August to early November will be a major challenge.
But Pulver says crowd numbers are irrelevant to the financial success of the competition.
“There have been very modest assumptions made around crowds,” he said.
Pulver said it was imperative Australia created a domestic competition on par with South Africa’s Currie Cup and New Zealand’s ITM Cup – to provide a natural stepping stone for junior players to Super Rugby and international level.
“To think our elite season stops in July I think is a nonsense. You would never design a season that way,” he said.
“Our players go on holiday. That doesn’t happen in any other country in the world.”
Queensland City will play out of Ballymore, Queensland Country at Bond University, the North Harbour Rays at Brookvale Oval, the Sydney Stars at Leichhardt Oval, NSW Country to be based at Waratahs headquarters at Moore Park (but play out of country towns), and the Greater Sydney Rams at a yet to be finalised venue.
The University of Canberra Vikings will play out of Viking Stadium in Tuggeranong, the Melbourne Rising at AAMI Park and the Perth Spirit at nib Stadium.