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FEATURE Where next for Super Rugby Pacific's 'Super Round'?

Where next for Super Rugby Pacific's 'Super Round'?
4 months ago

For three straight years now, the ‘Super Round’ in Melbourne has existed as Super Rugby Pacific’s awkward child, in that the competition has had to at least show it loves the concept, but really only because it is family.

But in practice, the annual event has just kind of stuttered along, showing glimpses of why the concept could be great, but lacking a stadium atmosphere and any true sense of occasion.

Melbourne, and the Victorian capital’s AAMI Park, look like the perfect location – at least on paper – for such an event. A stadium close to all the central bars, restaurants and hotels of a city easily accessible by fans of all teams in the competition via an international airport, and enviable public transport system. If rugby fans fancy a proper weekend away, then Melbourne feels like the perfect location.

Filipo Daugunu
The Rebels treated their fans to a seven-try victory over Western Force on the opening day of the Super Round in Melbourne (Photo Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

However, after conceiving the idea, joint venture partners Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby then turned it all over to Sydney-based events specialists TEG Live, an offshoot of ticketing giant Ticketek. They left a company based primarily around entertainment and concerts rather than sport to completely oversee the ticketing, promotion, marketing, logistics and everything else associated with putting on a weekend of rugby in one location.

TEG Live is growing in the sport industry, and its links to Super Rugby Pacific come courtesy of private equity owners Silver Lake, who in 2022 took a NZ$200 million stake in NZR’s commercial operations.

If there has been a consistent theme across three years of the Super Round, it has been the underwhelming lack of marketing and promotion around the event, both in Melbourne and to AFL-mad Victorians, and in all the other regions either side of the Tasman where supporters of Super Rugby Pacific teams might travel from.

For this year’s third edition, the total crowd for the three days was reportedly upwards of 32,000, with around 11,000 fans in the stadium on both Saturday and Sunday. Considering everything that’s gone down in Australian rugby in the last year, and the current uncertainty around the Melbourne Rebels, it’s an extraordinary achievement to pass last year’s estimated mark of 30,000.

Judging purely from the rugby on display in Melbourne last weekend, with five enthralling contests across the three days – only really let down by the disappointing ACT Brumbies’ thumping at the hands of the imposing competition-leading Chiefs – it still feels like the event has a future.

The universal experience from attendees in both 2023 and 2024 has been that the stadium atmosphere across the weekend certainly added to the enjoyment. But the common factor to all three editions of the Super Round – the 2022 edition was played mid-year, and only after a relaxing of Covid travel restrictions allowed the New Zealand teams to enter Australia – was that AAMI Park was a long way from full on any day of the event.

“If they can do a better job of marketing, it could become a really cool event,” has been a standard response every year since the event’s inception.

And so with the 2024 Super Round now behind us, and Victorian Tourism’s one-year extension on top of their initial two-year investment now up, the inevitable questions about the future of the event are already being asked.

Judging purely from the rugby on display in Melbourne last weekend, with five enthralling contests across the three days – only really let down by the disappointing ACT Brumbies’ thumping at the hands of the imposing competition-leading Chiefs – it still feels like the event has a future.

Jordan Petaia
The Reds and the Hurricanes served up an 11-try thriller on the final day at AAMI Park (Photo Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

After all, the concept has always been a strong one; it is just the execution which has been the major let-down.

Assuming the new Super Rugby Pacific commission will want to continue with the event, the big question then becomes “but where?”

While the Victorian Government has felt confident enough to pay to host the event in Melbourne, the follow-up question then becomes whether they might like to keep paying for it to remain in Melbourne.

The second major point needs to be the SRP commission maintaining full event control.

It certainly needs to remain in a similarly accessible location, a major city or centre capable of handling the potential influx of rugby travellers, and with suitable transport networks to transport them around once they arrive.

By all means, bring in specialist people and organisations to assist with the individual elements of the weekend – the aforementioned ticketing, promotion, marketing, logistics and everything else associated with putting on a weekend of rugby – but the commission must remain in charge throughout, and ultimately get away from this very curious situation of the last three years where a round of Super Rugby Pacific was played, but the organisation that runs the tournament has nothing to do with that round of rugby once the fixtures are set.

The commission has to remain in charge of the marketing and promotion, which then immediately allows them to work with the 12 teams and access important information such as membership and ticketing databases. Moreover, the commission then works with the broadcasters directly and the Super Round remains very much part of and attached to the competition. The awkward child is finally brought home and embraced by the family again, to continue the metaphor.

But if not Melbourne, then where?

Well, it certainly needs to remain in a similarly accessible location, a major city or centre capable of handling the potential influx of rugby travellers, and with suitable transport networks to transport them around once they arrive.

We can rule out Brisbane, which remains the home of the NRL’s annual Magic Round, which Super Rugby is clearly trying to mimic. The time zone – being five hours behind New Zealand – probably works against Perth, and the 50-year-old Canberra Stadium similarly rules out Australia’s national capital.

Queenstown
Could Queenstown’s Events Centre, which hosted a pre-season match between Highlanders and Moana Pasifika, handle the Super Round? (Photo Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Sydney certainly has the facilities, as do Auckland and Wellington, and all could be options. Dunedin potentially could too. Christchurch probably becomes an option once the new Te Kaha Stadium is completed in a few years’ time.

The other two locations which come up fairly frequently are Queensland’s Gold Coast, and Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand. Queenstown was mentioned several times in commentary last weekend.

Both would certainly tick the box when it comes to handling flocks of tourists, but the obvious drawbacks come in the form of the 19,000-capacity (with only six thousand seats), and the Gold Coast’s ever-present general ambivalence to elite sport.

This year’s event also showed that the Super Round can’t just continue to limp along and leave everyone hoping they might make it work much better next year

There is absolutely no doubt it’s an important riddle for the Super Rugby Pacific commission to resolve in the near future, but it’s one that needs to be resolved nonetheless. Whether the Super Round continues or not, you can imagine that decision would have to be made either way in the next few months.

Find the right location, retain control of the event’s planning, execution and revenue, and the Super Round could become an annual event that fans start thinking ahead to every year. It could even still work quite well in Melbourne, where the major attractions for running the event there in the first place remain today and will in the future.

It does need to be done right though, and it does need to be done very, very well. The 2024 edition showed that the rugby on the field can indeed become the highlight for everyone in attendance, and that is a welcome sign.

But this year’s event also showed that the Super Round can’t just continue to limp along and leave everyone hoping they might make it work much better next year.

Comments

19 Comments
W
Wayneo 133 days ago

Some serious gaslighting going on here blaming an underwhelming lack of marketing and promotion as the problem.

Attendances in Australia & New Zealand have been on a downwards trajectory for the past 12 consecutive years and you want people to believe it’s a marketing issue?

It’s also not just 1 event, it’s the entire competition that is getting a low turnout in both Aus & NZ.

Attendance levels are so shocking that they are hiding the numbers from the public, so here they are folks:

Total attendance for 2022 - 348,673 & average - 3,832
Total attendance for 2023 - 376,177 & average - 4,134

The Super Round idea has crashed and burned, 6 games for average attendance of 5,359 compared to the previous round that averaged 10,344.

Boil it all down SRP is dying because it’s a very low entertainment value product, and consequently a low value advertising & broadcast platform.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Australians don’t want to watch their teams get routed week in and week out. Frankly speaking, you would have better luck force feeding brussel sprouts to your kids than getting people to watch SRP.

The problem I see for rugby in both Australia & New Zealand is that nobody has done a feasibility study on it. If they had they would know that a cross border competition won’t work, and an all Australia based competition is the only feasible option.

Reasoning is based on 2 factors, 1 being Aussies are staunchly patriotic, similar to the US with NFL, so an all Australia based competition and teams is a non-negotiable, and 2 population density that NZ & PI nations just don’t have.

A high population equates to better odds of higher match day attendance and tv viewer counts. Patriotism is measurable by looking at the other locally based competitions like US NFL, Aus NRL & AFL, and the CC in SA before Super Rugby.

The SRP product it is today is not marketable to broadcasters and advertisers who want lots of bums on seats and eyes on the tv.

I will go one further and suggest a type of merger between the ARU & NZR, rooted in the need for survival more than anything else, to set up a competition with privatized clubs, with partial joint NZR & ARU ownership, to be able to implement it successfully. Would require a bidding process for club licenses to PE investors and all the NZ & PI players to relocate and be integrated into the now all Australian clubs.

Product will be an amalgamation of PI, NZ & Aus players, coaches and support staff and similar to the international flavored French Top14.

This is then a high-quality product that can be marketed to advertisers and broadcasters. PE investors would drive the broadcast & advertising revenue bus and for the rights to be bundled up with other broadcasting packages, typically like the RC or in the current bundle with the English Premiership, URC & EPRC.

As I mentioned above, broadcasters want lots of eyes on tv so expanding the range will be the next important move, organizing a Southern Hemisphere EPRC type competition with Japan, South American clubs and the SA Currie Cup teams to start.

This gives a broadcasting base of 125 mill from Japan, 60+ million for Argentina, 30 million form Aus & NZ and the 1.4 billion sub-Saharan Africa region that every broadcaster and advertiser is falling over their feet to get into. US Major League Rugby and European T2 clubs like Georgian Black Lion also not off the table and could be looked at including.

You have commentators like John Kirwin trashing the game week in and week out on tv & incessant whining about the game not being more like League and you expect people to turn up every week? Wilkard’s latest rant about John Kirwin on YT is worth watching.

Come on folks, Redneck Hakka deflection time is over so time to wake up and smell the coffee and see that rugby in Australasia is dying.

Japan will also not save you and if you haven’t already noticed, Japan have gone off and started their own 6 nations competition. Only you can save yourselves.

So, what’s it going to be? More Redneck Hakkas or will the survival instinct start to kick in?

A
Alex 133 days ago

I reckon Christchurch when the new stadium is open would fit the bill.
The city has been starved of high quality events and getting something like this would bring a good crowd out especially given the proximity to central city and bars (10 mins walk).

Member, no major events since 2010 - lost 2011 world cup pool and no major AB tests since then, no major concerts, no other tier 1 sports or entertainment.

T
Trevor 134 days ago

Thanks Brett, I think it’s a great concept but needs to be promoted.

To be held in Melbourne it would probably require a cross promotion of some description, giving patrons more that one reason to travel. If to be held on the Gold Coast, perhaps cross promote with them parks.

I don’t suggest to have the answers but true marketing people will have.

S
Steve 134 days ago

I went to the event in 2023 from NZ. Complete lack of atmosphere on the stadium due to poor crowds. No amount of advertising will fix that in Melbourne - it’s an AFL town to its bones. The biggest impediment to growing a decent crowd in any hosting city is the fact the Super Round is held in round 2. The season is barely underway, most sports fans are still watching cricket. If it was held in something like round 9 then you’ll get more people travelling to the games. It’s a great concept with huge off field potential, just play it later in the season - and not in Melbourne.

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Neale 134 days ago

I wouldn’t say Melbourne International Airport is that handy for the centre. Bit of a schlep on the bus and then a tram or taxi. However, if you’re going to stage the event in Melbourne, it could definitely be glitzed-up by using the Docklands indoor stadium. Much better atmosphere and far handier for bars and transport than the rather sterile AAMI arena.

M
Mitch 134 days ago

Well, I can’t see a junket to Vegas happening for super round! Hosting Super Round (yes, Greg Martin, it’s Super Round, not Magic Round) in Sydney might be worth considering. The new SFS might be too big but CommBank Stadium is probably an ideal size for Super Round.

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