Brett Papworth: Let’s stop pretending it’s a business, when it isn’t run like one


By Brett Papworth

We all know with some certainty, that if we want some cash for our later years in life, we need to send it on ahead via superannuation or something similar. We know that we should take the $100 from our salary and put it away first, before we spend what is left. Most of us know that if we don’t do that it simply won’t be available, after we spend it on flash cars, holidays, big houses, nights out etc. Gee, what do you know, all of a sudden there’s none left!

That’s what is happening with rugby. They know with certainty that they should be investing in the game’s future, but after all the urgent and important expenditure, there just isn’t any left. It is the wrong model, and they know it. They have got themselves in a pickle and are desperately trying to get themselves out. Which is why I thought we might try a few suggestions?

As the board is made up of mostly corporate types with extensive business experience, let’s put it in terms they understand better than most:

Share Price: Well from a high of say $100 a share in the early 2000’s, we're probably at about $1 per share now. At any corporate AGM, that would be enough to have everyone fired.

Dividend distribution: Ah, sorry. There won’t be any of that.

Market Share: Our share of the hearts and minds of the sporting public is just about at an all-time low. TV audiences, crowds, share of media, etc. Again, at any corporate AGM, it would be the cause of serious carnage.

Customer Satisfaction: In the 2016 Annual Report, the ARU rate themselves against a scorecard. One of the items is; “igniting Australia’s passion for the game”. They rated themselves 18.5 out of 20. That is delusional, depending of course on who you treat as the customer. The rugby community might rate them no higher than a three, but I’m pretty sure we weren’t asked, were we?

Staff Satisfaction: This is a tricky one, because there will be lots of people paid quite handsomely by the game who are pretty happy. But I think the reality is that most people who work in the rugby business, whether paid or unpaid, know that it is not a happy place. In the corporate world, staff and customer satisfaction is a pretty big deal, and people lose jobs as a result.

So, by any measure, things are not good. You might think therefore that there would have been some serious questions, angst and action at the ARU AGM on Monday afternoon? Nope.

But as you the rugby community don't ever get to hear about this stuff, I am going to tell you. I was in the room (as VP of the Sydney Rugby Union), and whilst I have some empathy for those in the big chairs, I am equally sure the rugby community don’t give a damn about empathy. They want some action and leadership that show them we are serious about reclaiming our game.

As you might expect the representatives from WA and Victoria had a bit to say, and had a real crack. And so they should have.

Apart from that, the only items on the agenda were:

  • • To re-elect Cameron Clyne and Paul McLean as directors, by rotation, after three years, and;

  • • To re-elect Josephine Sukkar and John Massey as members of the “nominations committee”, after four years, by rotation.

  • • To elect Tony Shaw, Tim Gavin and Jeff Miller to President, Vice President and Junior Vice President. Honorary/ceremonial positions, non-voting. Good rugby men, no problems there, except they don’t get a say.

  • • And lastly, to disaffiliate the Sydney Rugby Union and the NSW Country Rugby Union. No problems there either, as the NSWRU is where they should sit. The only reason the SRU ever affiliated directly with the ARU in the first place was because they were not confident the NSWRU had their interests at heart.

Those eligible to vote are the member unions, RUPA (one vote) and the franchisees. Those unions with more than 50000 participants get two votes (NSW and QLD), those with less than 50000 participants get one vote (Vic, WA, SA, ACT, TAS), and the franchisees get one vote each.

What amazes me is that the member unions, and the franchisees, just allowed the process to happen. There must be a two thirds majority vote to be re-elected, and it just happened! How much worse does our game have to get before the member unions actually say “enough!”?

Well, it clearly needs to get worse, or, the people representing us are not prepared to do the job we want them to do. Obviously, more of the same, by the same people, is ok with our representatives?

There are a number of issues here:

How is it that a nominations and election process can be held, with no notice or communication to the rugby community? What is the process of nomination? A secret?

How, at a time when we have never been in worse shape, can there be NO alternative directors standing? It is not an election when there is only one candidate. It is a rubber stamping. And the member unions have sat idly by and allowed it. It is shameful.

What is the “nominations committee”? Who puts them in place? You know the answer to that question! What is their role, if not to put alternative candidates in the frame? How is it possible to have a say in this game when it is obvious the board and nominations committee actually make sure they all get re-elected without any notice or opposition?

The ARU often talk about their governance model being world class! If by “world class” you mean bomb proof, then they’ve nailed it!

The ARU and the various member unions love to talk about our game in business terms, and can’t stop talking about money, and “high performance outcomes”.

Well here are the facts:

By any corporate measure, they have failed. But they all remain in place. If it was a business, that wouldn’t be the case.

Show me any high performance outcomes? Any? (I know, I know, the women’s game is booming!)

Business people have shown that they don’t actually run it like a business. So let’s let some rugby people have a crack! Let me tell you what rugby people would do, starting tomorrow:

Change the narrative. Stop talking about money and start talking about winning. It is a very different mindset if every day you focus on winning rugby games, rather than how much money we don’t have. Winning isn’t about money. The ARU spent $120 million in 2016, would it really matter if we only spent $60 million? What would change?

Focus on participation. Create and focus on the layers required to create a winning culture. Other codes have success by creating domestic, tribal competition. We could too, by making domestic competition important and meaningful again. Keep your five Super rugby teams, have them play each other twice, and a final. Below that, create a national club championship, in both XVs and Sevens. Let it be the NRC if you must, but make it meaningful, and spend some money promoting it.

Before you say “but what about the SANZAAR dollars” and the “broadcast agreement”, let me say "how has that been going for the good of the game in this country?" It simply doesn’t matter how much money you have if we continue to spend it on a flawed model. Ask the broadcasters how they feel about rugby, and the response will be terse. They are interested only in sport that people care about, and I am confident we can provide it domestically. We have shown we are not interested in a Super Rugby competition that includes half the world.

Put aside $10 million, before you spend a cent elsewhere, for the deployment of 100 Development Officers, in every rugby region. Coach the coaches, the teachers, the kids, in clubs and in schools, but run it locally. They wear a club polo, not a Wallaby one. Kids need to aspire firstly to play for their club and make first grade, and go from there, not what we have now where kids aspire to be “contracted” before ever having played a grade match against men. I promise you it is this culture that is costing us now.

The best companies in the world ensure that responsibility and accountability are as close to the coalface as possible. Rugby does the complete opposite. Head office can never know as much about the customer as those who live it every day, so let those on the ground have a say in what is happening and how it is done.

Stop the corporate speak, because you have shown that to be a myth. It is a game, and it’s about winning, so let’s start talking in those terms, and let people who know about that have some say.

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