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Peters: Expansion is 'virtually impossible' for Kings

SANZAR CEO Greg Peters is very happy with the current format

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Article Published: Monday 30 April 2012






SANZAR CEO Greg Peters has said that it is "virtually impossible" for Super Rugby to change it's format before 2015 when the broadcast agreement expires.

SANZAR is body made up of the South African, New Zealand and Australian Rugby Unions who manage the Super Rugby and Rugby Championship (formerly TriNations) tournaments.

SANZAR have pre-sold the television rights to their tournaments until 2015 and have agreed with their broadcasters on a set number of matches that will be broadcast in a specific format.

South Africa however want their SANZAR partners to drop the current agreement so that they can have one more team than their partners in the tournament.

Each country has one Geographic conference with five teams in each conference but South Africa want a sixth team in their conference even though it would create an imbalance.

The need for expansion comes about as earlier this year the South African Rugby Union promised their government that they would field a sixth team - the Southern Kings - in next season's Super Rugby tournament.

The Southern Kings are a team surrounded in politics as it is supposed to be a "black" Super Rugby team to develop rugby in the Eastern Cape. However they have recently appointed two New Zealand coaches and the future captain Luke Watson is a white player.

While the Southern Kings team is meant to be a black team the players linked to the squad have been mainly white players which indicates that the pressure is more on SA Rugby to fulfill their promise to the SA government of putting a team into the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium which is becoming a "white elephant" in the city of Port Elizabeth after it was built for the Football World Cup in 2010.

Peters has revealed that they have asked a private company to weigh up a series of alternative competition structures and determine if any of the models would deliver the same returns in terms of broadcast and crowd figures within the conference system, and none of them did.

While SA Rugby have given a commitment to the Southern Kings that they will be included in Super Rugby next year time is running out for the body to decide how this can be achieved.

The only options that appear to be viable is the implementation of a promotion-relegation system or for two teams to merge as the Lions and Cheetahs did when they played as the Cats.

Peters has maintained all year that a 16-team Super Rugby competition is not possible.

"I've been consistent in the view that it is virtually impossible to consider a 16-team format," Peters told Business Day.

"We have sold this format until 2015. So it is virtually impossible to see that changing."

"The broadcasters bought into three conferences with an equal number of teams and an extended play-off series of three weeks. So all this has been sold and locked away until 2015," he said.

"While we have always continued to dialogue with Saru and have considered options they have put forward, which included getting an independent company to model different options around 16 teams, none of them work within the conference system.....Sixteen does not fit into three (conferences)."

During the five year run of the Super 14 tournament SANZAR researched want Super Rugby fans wanted to see and developed the current format which includes more local derbies and less travel.

Throughout past formats the South African teams complained that they were prejudiced by the amount of travel they had to do and the new format has cut travel in order to accommodate the South African gripe.

South Africa want the current format to be scrapped and for the old system to be brought back even though it would mean the broadcaster would be given fewer matches to broadcast which would no doubt lead to a drop in broadcast fees and the souring of the relationship between all parties.

"If each team plays the others once, it means going back to the round-robin system we moved away from recently," he said.

"And we are only two and a half years into the new system. This model was implemented for valid reasons, and those reasons still remain valid."

Peters says that SANZAR are so pleased with the current format that he could not name a single problem they had faced in achieving what they set out to do by expanding the competition from 14 teams to 15.

"The whole driver behind the conference system was the local derbies," said Peters.

"They are the most commercially successful matches in terms of crowds and viewership. There is an average of 4000 people more that attend those games across the conferences, and also the fans have said that is what they want to see."

"So that is the strength of the conference format and it seems to be working pretty well.

"Last year, being year-one with the expanded format and with a few distractions, the least of which was the Rugby World Cup, we hoped we would be able to kick off from there."

"It was our goal to grow from there and keep the interest in the game, and it has certainly panned out that way in the first half of the competition, which is really encouraging.

"Our viewership is up, particularly in SA and New Zealand, which is good because they were the two regions we had a few concerns about in 2011, but it has kicked on nicely."

"Crowds are up in New Zealand and steady or marginally up in SA," Peters told Business Day.

"So we are moving in the right direction. In Australia, meanwhile, viewership is almost up to the heights of 2011, which is a huge increase on previous years. So to get back to those sort of levels again is fantastic."

With the current Super Rugby format proving to be such a success it would make no sense for SANZAR to change a format that is delivering growth.

 
 
 
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