Rugby Australia as top-heavy as they come and the gamble is falling flat

Structurally, though, the most worrying aspect of RAs finances are those that relate to Super Rugby, player costs and corporate expenditure versus the amount being brought in by broadcasting.


Take a deep breath. In 2017, RA spent $12m on Super Rugby team costs, $27m on Super Rugby funding and $25m on player payments and RUPA costs. Thats a total of $64m.

However, its total broadcast take – by far the No.1 source of revenue – only amounted to $61m.

It gets worse. Much worse. RA also threw $1.3m to the SANZAAR office, spent another $8m on High Performance and National Teams and another $4m on Marketing and Media.

Theres more. Rugby Australia also spent $17m on Corporate costs, described in the RA report as all costs associated with the administration, legal, compliance . . . of running the business.

In other words, executive salaries and the like.

The amount given to Community Rugby was $3.7 million. A reminder at this stage that I am not aligned to club rugby in Sydney, never have been.

In fact, I have been an avowed supporter of Super Rugby. But the game is at a crucial juncture in Australia and you cannot look away at these numbers.

This report shows that people at the top of the business – players and administrators – are doing very nicely, thank you. Meanwhile, those are the bottom are not.

Separately, the costs associated with Super Rugby are beginning to look outrageous when you consider how the competition has alienated supporters in recent years.

At its current rate of spending, RA will spend $195m on Super Rugby team costs and Super Rugby funding over the next five years.

Grassroots: Close to 16,000 fans packed into North Sydney Oval for the 2017 Shute Shield final.

Photo: James Brickwood

What makes those outlays particularly worrying is that RA already received a boost in broadcast revenue from the last TV deal.

Therefore, the capacity or desire from broadcasters, in Australia or overseas, to pump in enough money to generate a similar uplift in the next deal is limited.

Even the UK market – which gave SANZAAR such a boost in the last deal – has run out of steam.

This all leaves Rugby Australia in a precarious situation. For years the strategy has been to throw money at the top end, using a star system in recruitment, and back the high-performance teams to generate the money to use elsewhere.

So when RA says, We would love to spend more money on the grassroots but cant, its not strictly true.

More accurate would be to say, We would like to spend more money on the grassroots but were choosing not to.

RA will say it has committed to spend another $1m on community rugby this year, but that still only matches the $1m it spent last year bringing home Wallabies from overseas (another little nugget of information contained in the report).


The approach has been top down for years. RA has spent vast amounts of money on players and administrators, yet the Wallabies actually fell in the rankings last year.

It is also spending huge amounts of money on a Super Rugby competition that Australians appear to have lost touch with.

And in Folaus case, they are about to spend a lot of money on a player who is endangering their second biggest source of revenue (sponsorships, $31m).

The house has been bet on the top of the Australian rugby pyramid, and its a wager that has rarely looked shakier.

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Paul Cully

Paul Cully is a rugby columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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