Australia and South Africa could lose one Super Rugby team each under a new proposed 16-team format that has been presented to the Australian Rugby Union board.
A number of early proposals have been discussed and one of these has South Africa losing two teams. Another sees more teams being added to a further expanded tournament.
Sanzaar have appointed consultants Accenture to come up with an improved 10-year vision for the unloved 18 team format and their final plan is still some months away.
Earlier this year Accenture were appointed by the ARU to look into the Australian domestic game’s finances.
In 2001 Accenture compiled a report which said the then Super 12 Rugby tournament should expand to a Super 16 by 2005 and then grow even further to include teams from Asia. The final suggestion was for Super Rugby to link up with the then Heineken Cup to form a global competition.
At the time the 2001 Accenture report was mothballed but since then Sanzaar have adopted several of the original suggestions as the tournament now includes 18 teams and has teams in Asia and Argentina.
Fans in their millions have however turned away from Super Rugby as Sanzaar has been seen to be pursuing quantity over quality.
Accenture have now completed a consultation process that included the 18 teams, the national unions, and the host broadcaster from each country and Sanzaar hope to have a recommended model for Super Rugby in the next month or two with a final structure and timeline for change agreed by the end of this year.
Sanzaar have left it too late for 2017 but change could come in 2018.
According to Fairfax Media the ARU have been looking at a number of tournament models one of which would be for Australia to surrender one of its Super Rugby teams in time for the 2018 season.
The most likely candidate would be the Western Force and then the Rebels who are now being supported financially by private owners. The ARU had to absorb the Western Force earlier this year and paid them $800,000 for their licence to help pay off their liabilities.
Another Australian contender for being cut is the Brumbies who will go to court next week in a court case over a sponsorship finder’s fee which could break the Canberra Franchise financially if the court’s decision goes against them.
Although the Australian Rugby Union got a record $285 million cash injection over five years from the Sanzaar deal, the celebrations were short as Super Rugby teams are struggling to cope financially almost across the board.
The Australian Rugby Union have recently lost their Super Rugby title sponsor and failed to find a naming sponsor for the England series in June and the Rugby Championship. As a result the ARU has informed their five Super Rugby franchises they can expect a $500,000 funding shortfall next season.
Last year the Reds lost more than $1 million but like most other teams attendances were down in 2016 so finances could be worse for the franchises when the figures are released next year.
The New Zealand Rugby Union have predicted a loss in four of the next five years – the exception being next year with the British and Irish Lions – while in South Africa the Southern Kings have been put into liquidation and the South African Rugby Union took control of the franchise late last year.
There have also been reports that the Sharks have had to sell a big percentage of their shares to remain afloat.
The Southern Kings would be the most likely South African team to be cut from Super Rugby should the tournament be cut to 16 teams.