Sport 'We are all broke': NSW chair calls for RA overhaul

14:35  09 december  2019
14:35  09 december  2019 Source:   smh.com.au

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Mike Baird wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera: Former NSW premier Mike Baird has been mentioned as a possible nomination for Rugby Australia.© James Alcock Former NSW premier Mike Baird has been mentioned as a possible nomination for Rugby Australia.

NSW Waratahs chairman Roger Davis has warned that the Australian Super Rugby sides will go broke unless Raelene Castle delivers an uplift on the current broadcast deal and called for a radical overhaul of the competition as "a matter of the utmost urgency".

As Castle emerged unscathed from the final Rugby Australia board meeting of the year, her position absent from the day's talking points, Davis said he feared for the solvency of Australia's major provinces under the new competition format due to start in 2021.

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He threw his qualified support behind a push to install former Australian rugby boss John O'Neill as chairman when Cameron Clyne steps down in March, and said the game was desperate for leadership.

"We are all broke unless the [rights] deal goes up," he said. "We are being asked to survive on a minimum of six home games a year and a maximum of seven, which is basically taking 20 per cent of our revenue out of the business. You can't take 20 per cent of a business's revenue away and expect it to survive."

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a close up of a girl: Raelene Castle has emerged unscathed from the final Rugby Australia board meeting of the year.© Getty Images Raelene Castle has emerged unscathed from the final Rugby Australia board meeting of the year.

Super Rugby will revert to a round robin format when the Sunwolves exit the competition at the end of next season, meaning each Australian team will have its home games cut from eight to six or seven on an alternating basis.

It is this format, plus a rejigged Rugby Championship and July Test calendar, that the SANZAAR nations have taken to market for a broadcast rights deal at home and overseas.

Australia are the last of the three founding partners to finalise their domestic agreement, with Castle and highly regarded rights consultant Shane Mattiske intent on testing the market for a competitor to long-term partner Fox Sports.

"This deal is absolutely critical," Davis said.

Castle and the RA board and administration hope the Christmas period acts as a circuit breaker on a disastrous year for the game on and off the field.

Having appointed a Wallabies coach, put the divisive Israel Folau issue to bed and survived the final board meeting, Castle will start the new year with one priority: to open a formal bidding process for broadcast rights and secure a five-year deal worth, at the very least, the same as the current $57 million a year contract.

She will be assisted by Mattiske who, as NRL head of strategy, played a key role in the code's record-breaking $1.2 billion broadcast deal in 2012.

But the sharks are circling, and the pair's determination to go to market for a competitive offer to Fox Sports' opening play appears to have enraged the broadcaster's top brass.

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RA sees it as a matter of due diligence to test market interest in rugby, not only with its current partner and free-to-air networks but also with OTT ("over-the-top") providers such as Optus, Amazon and Netflix.

A barrage of reports have cast the move as a fatal mis-step, and several broadcasting and rugby sources have suggested Foxtel boss Patrick Delany is close to refusing to deal with Castle.

The stand-off appears to have spooked RA directors and stakeholders, with Davis calling for a leadership overhaul.

"We should be going into the new year talking about a great season of rugby ahead but instead we're tearing ourselves apart on governance and leadership," he said, adding any move to install O'Neill as chairman would have to go through the proper nomination and appointment process.

"I think everyone would like to see the issues addressed and a new board in place. If John was asked to stand up as chair, I think he would do a good job - it will certainly be an interesting ride."

The first opportunity will come at the annual general meeting on March 30, when Clyne's position and three others will be up for election. Deputy chair Brett Robinson and Queensland appointment Paul McLean will step down, and Ann Sherry has already vacated her seat.

Clyne addressed the speculation after Monday's meeting. "2020 is an important year with the broadcast rights negotiations underway and we remain in dialogue with our long-term partner Fox Sports as we aim to deliver the strongest levels of coverage for all of our competitions over the next five-year cycle," he said.

The jockeying has begun, although O'Neill and current director John Wilson are the only names linked to the chairman's role as yet.

Consulting firm Korn Ferry was enlisted to draw up a list to take to the nominations committee, which is made up of John Sharp, Daryl McDonough and Mark L'Huillier.

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Figures being mentioned in rugby circles include NSW Waratahs directors Tony Crawford and Kerry Chikarovski, former NSW premier Mike Baird, World Cup-winning Wallabies captain Nick Farr-Jones, former Rugby Union Players' Association boss Greg Harris and lawyer and Sydney Olympics bid guru Rod McGeoch.

Castle's future will be considered a live issue under a new chairman, with several directors considered "sceptics", pending the outcome of broadcast rights negotiations.

The organisation believes it has an attractive product to take to market, including a Test schedule over the next five years superior to any other SANZAAR nation. The Wallabies will host Ireland, England and Wales at home over the course of the next deal. In 2021, when the British and Irish Lions tour South Africa, a senior RA source told the Herald Australia would host France, while New Zealand would host Italy.

It also believes a lift in subscriptions on Kayo, Foxtel's sports streaming service, during the Rugby World Cup, gives the lie to the narrative that rugby is no longer valuable to Fox.

But the pay broadcaster, which has held exclusive rights to Super Rugby since it used the competition to launch the business in the mid-90s, has a track record in heavy-handed negotiations.

It threatened to walk away from cricket last year, only to sign it on a mammoth $1.2 billion contract in partnership with free-to-air Channel Seven. The deal, in which only the men's ODIs and T20 internationals are exclusive on Fox Sports, has come to be regarded as a gamble that is weighing down the broadcaster's finances.

In 2015, former NRL boss Dave Smith resigned after angering Foxtel's parent company, News Corporation, when he negotiated a $925 million free-to-air TV deal with Channel Nine in 2015, inking the deal separately to the Fox Sports component and cutting the pay broadcaster out of Saturday and Monday night NRL programming.

Leaving kids in cars is dangerous: police .
The reminder not to leave children unattended in cars comes as the state prepares for a heatwave this weekThe reminder comes as the state prepares for a heatwave with temperatures forecast to reach a peak of 45C.

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