If you were king, how many tests would the All Blacks play in any given calendar year?
Is 10 too few? What about 20 or 30? Should these blokes be on the road on an almost continual basis?
As it stands, the men in black are scheduled for 15 outings in 2021. Of those, about half will be worth watching.
The best players will appear in, say, 10 or 12 of the 15 games, with some second-tier types picked to make up the numbers.
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) needs the All Blacks on the park to generate revenue. But the more games the team plays, the more blokes will need a spell.
And when your best players sit, the more guys have to be elevated to All Blacks contracts. It’s all very well to hope that 15 tests can fund the All Blacks’ programme, but if it takes 40 to 50 players to fulfil the broadcast schedule then that’s a pretty hefty wage bill.
So is 10 tests in which, injury permitting, all the marquee men play, a better financial bet? Or should we have 30 tests on the schedule, albeit played by personnel that are actually lessening the lustre of the All Blacks’ brand?
It’s an interesting one. The NFL, for instance, have been pretty steadfast in maintaining a 16-game regular season. There are playoffs for the better teams, and ‘exhibition’ games to be played prior to the season, but the endeavour is always to stage just 16 matches in which every available star plays.
It’s all done over a condensed time period, with no expectation that the players will appear for anyone else. There’s no Super Rugby-type competition prior or a directive that those not picked for NFL duty toddle off to a second-tier team, such as our provincial unions.
You have your 16 games and that’s pretty much that.
The news reports that American company Silver Lake could tip huge dollars into NZR are interesting as well.
Rarely do numbers bandied about in public turn out to be true, but the reports suggest Silver Lake’s mooted 15 per cent stake in NZR would see our governing body valued at $2 billion.
"It’s not just about the rugby. It’s the revenue that matters too. The full stadiums, the travelling fans. Lions rugby is nothing without those."
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 7, 2021
Silver Lake paid $500 million in 2019 for a stake in the Manchester City football club. City play 38 league games alone each season, not to mention the Champions League, two cup competitions, one-offs such as the Charity Shield and pre-season tours. Manchester City are said to be worth north of $5 billion.
Rugby and football are clearly different games, but a team such as City would play 60 matches a year. Are Silver Lake going to want to see the All Blacks do that?
Rugby in New Zealand won’t pay for itself. The broadcast market – as lucrative as that can be – hasn’t been able to keep pace with the rise in player wages and NZR now has to look at private equity firms such as Silver Lake to help keep the game afloat.
But at what cost to the All Blacks’ players and to the overall brand?
The NFL and its franchise owners aren’t infallible. But they all make a big pile of dough out of a 16-game season.
With all due respect to our provincial unions and Super Rugby sides, rugby in New Zealand is about the All Blacks. They’re the team people want to see and who sponsors, broadcasters and – now maybe – private equity firms want to invest in.
But how many All Blacks tests are too many and how many are too few?
That’s a question we quickly need an answer to if we want to sustain that remarkable brand into the future.
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