How to improve Super Rugby: Negatives & solutions

    2017-02-21 12:45

    Dhirshan Gobind

    Cape Town - With Super Rugby well and truly the centre of all rugby discussion at the moment, there are many fans who feel the tournament can be improved dramatically to form a better overall product.

    The one aspect that seems to get the most attention is the contentious format.  

    In this column I attempt to fish out the negatives BUT also provide some possible solutions as well, in order for Super Rugby to grow beyond all expectation.

    Negative 1

    Poor Format

    I simply do not agree with the format currently being implemented by SANZAAR. It is way too complex and complicated for the average rugby fan to comprehend and even die-hard rugby aficionados and the players themselves struggle to come to grips with it. Even the bonus point rule confuses people, not to mention the new semi-final rule.

    Main issues:

    · Too many teams

    · Too many groups (4)

    · Too many local derbies (that’s what the Currie Cup is for)

    · Certain teams are prevented from facing certain other teams (certain South African and New Zealand teams completely avoid each other by default - unfair on the fans, teams and the players)

    · Too many easy games and guaranteed 5 pointers

    · Simply too complicated (wild cards, quarter-final spot seedings, new semi-final rule) and grouping of teams don’t really make sense and are unfair (why are the Sunwolves and Jaguares conveniently placed in the African conferences?)

    As you can see from the above, there are way too many negatives with the new format.

    Possible solutions:

    Oh how we miss the good old Super 12 days where every team plays the other once (with a fair mix of home and away matches) for 11 games in total and one combined log, with the top 4 advancing to the semi-finals.

    Firstly, there needs to be a reduction in teams to ensure better quality. My opinion, get rid of the worst South African team (the Kings) and the worst Australian team (Force or Rebels - take your pick) - that leaves us with 16 teams.

    Solution 1: There could be two separate divisions of 8 teams each - premier and second-tier, with a promotion and relegation system.  Each team in both divisions could play the other 7 teams both home and away for 14 games, with the top 4 contesting the semi-finals. The bottom two from the premier division get relegated and the top two from the second-tier get automatically promoted.

    Solution 2: Have two separate groups of 8 teams each under one division. Have an official draw with a proper seeding system, to ensure a spread and mixture of teams (to avoid all 5 New Zealand teams from being in the same group for example) and this draw can be done annually thus ensuring a different mix each year. Top 4 from each group contest the quarter-finals via the traditional method (1st in Group 1 v 4th in Group 2 and so forth) – just like the Rugby World Cup knock-out rounds are done.

    Solution 3: Get rid of the Japanese team as well (they are in the northern hemisphere and Japan doesn’t even compete in the Rugby Championship), leaving us with 15 teams. Each team plays every other team for 14 games in total (7 home, 7 away) - top 4 progress to the semi-finals. Seems the best solution of the lot and all teams get to face each other (or even a system where the top 6 make it through for 2 playoffs, 2 semi-finals and the final).

    Solution 4: Keep the current 18 teams where every team plays every other team (a mix of home and away games  - alternating each year) and the top 8 make the quarter-finals.

    Negative 2

    Poor Attendances

    It goes without saying that attendances have dipped remarkably over the past few years. Attendance figures at stadiums are on average 145 000 lower than in 2012. The poor format, one-sided games and expensive ticket prices are mostly to blame.

    Possible solutions:

    Simple! As stated above, re-jig the format (which will also help reduce one-sided contests and give the fans more interest in proceedings) and reduce ticket prices. Reduction of ticket prices will actually result in more fans attending and in essence off-set the reduction, and franchises will actually end up making a profit at the end of the day.

    Negative 3

    Poor television viewership

    Not only has the tournament suffered from dwindling crowds at the stadiums but also from decreased audience ratings in terms of television viewership figures. On average, there are roughly 3.8 million fewer viewers than 4 years ago. An alarming stat if you are a sponsor or SANZAAR itself.

    Possible solutions:

    The format solutions tabled forth will also help solve the tv problem (seems the format is the common factor here). Sadly, pay channel, DSTV, has insane subscription fees and this is the only medium to catch all the live action. Only a select few can afford it and those in disadvantaged areas will be unable to catch even the highlights or indeed the results of games.  The SABC should ‘transform’ and bring the action to the public. Sports minister Fikile Mbalula should ensure proper transformation here if he wants disadvantaged children watching their rugby heroes and thus taking an interest in the sport. Do something constructive for a change to assist in transformation.

    Negative 4

    Administration (SANZAAR)

    Unfortunately the body in charge of all this seems to focus more on financial rewards, television rights and sponsorships rather than the essence of why the cup was started in the first place!

    Possible solutions:

    Apparently the management consulting company Accenture is being appointed to do a thorough analysis on the tournament and it’s feasibility for the next decade. They should rather do a similar study on SANZAAR and iron out the chinks in their armour. The federation needs to take a long hard look at their weaknesses and come up with a solution that is best for the game itself. For the fans, players , teams and overall health of the competition. No need to re-invent the wheel!

    Dhirshan Gobind is a 30-something freelance sports columnist/writer and a UKZN alumnus with a degree in Marketing Management. He also has a tri-weekly column in ‘The Post’.

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