A New Zealand sports columnist has proposed a radical solution to imminent financial crisis that looms over both rugby union and rugby league due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
The sporting world has come to a standstill in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, and some codes are beginning to feel the subsequent financial pinch.
In rugby union, New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia are facing significant financial losses of over $200m this year, while England’s Rugby Football Union is expected to lose up to $100m in revenue over the next 18 months.
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Governing bodies worldwide are preparing to enforce pay cuts, with England head coach Eddie Jones already accepted a 25 percent wage drop from his reported $1.5m-per-year deal with the RFU.
It’s a similarly stark situation in rugby league, where players in the NRL are anticipating a mammoth 87 percent pay cut while the Australasian competition remains in lockdown.
The NRL isn’t likely to recommence until June at the earliest, and a news.com.au report indicated that the competition is expected to lose $13m for every round not played.
Such a dire predicament has led prominent New Zealand Herald sportswriter Dylan Cleaver to question whether it is worth the two codes joining forces to create a single rugby code in order to combat the financial pressure that COVID-19 has unleashed.
Writing in his Any Given Monday (Thursday edition) column, Cleaver argued that while there are obvious obstacles that would restrict a cross-code merger, union and league may need each other in order to survive the aftermath of coronavirus.
“The world faces months without professional sport and possibly years of spectator-less sport,” Cleaver wrote.
“A Guardian article headlined “Enough of this epic delusion: coronavirus makes sport in front of fans a long way off”, quoted a pandemic expert who believed that even if professional sports leagues returned, stadia would remain empty for “months and months – and perhaps even next year and beyond”.
“That is going to bite hard.
“There is no guarantee broadcasting rights will return to the levels they are now, and clubs without the revenue lifeline of ticket and concession sales could go to the wall.
“Take the NRL. There was a reason the best league competition in the world continued its “delusion” long after it was sensible – it couldn’t afford not to. It has a rainy day fund suitable for a light drizzle, but if it looks outside right now it’ll see it is pouring. In Australia, they are already talking about which clubs will fall over first.
“The only reason rugby is in better shape is because its international game remains strong, the World Cup is a cash machine and a bunch of sugar daddies in France and England are prepared to run rugby clubs as loss leaders.
“In the south, and Australia in particular, Super Rugby is close to a basket case.
“For financial reasons alone, having all the talent playing a single code makes perfect sense.”
Cleaver went on to suggest that while both sports would benefit from an altered style of gameplay, but ultimately predicted that a compromise between the two codes will never come to fruition, although if it were to happen, now would be the time to discuss it.
From a purely playing perspective, a merger between union and league into one single code would yield a massive influx of talent from both directions.
With the likes of Cameron Smith, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Latrell Mitchell doing battle with Maro Itoje, Beauden Barrett and Faf de Klerk, it would be difficult for broadcasters and sponsors to not pay offer top dollar for such an enticing clash of stars.
Such a move would also alleviate worries of players looking to hop between codes, with both league and union fans concerned at the prospect of losing Kalyn Ponga and Ardie Savea to the opposite sport in recent times.
However, it are those financial incentives which will drive the rugby world – both union and league – in the coming months once COVID-19 dissipates, and few concepts could demand as much corporate money or ticket sales as a permanent cross-code merger.
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