Saru to use TV clout in Super Rugby battle
SOUTH African rugby will use its TV clout to press for a sixth team in Super rugby next year.
The five local teams in the Super 15 have sent a new proposal to the SA Rugby Union (Saru) putting their case for expanding the tournament to the Super 16 from 2013.
Now it will be up to Saru to persuade its Australian and New Zealand counterparts to agree to that expansion and award the extra side to South Africa. This would spare South African rugby the pain of relegating one of its five current Super 15 teams to make way for the entry next year of the Southern Kings, to which Saru has already committed itself.
Unless Saru is successful, which at this stage seems unlikely, one of the Bulls, Cheetahs, Lions, Sharks or Stormers will drop out next year. The five have, however, presented an argument based on the South African television viewership of the Super 15.
According to statistics supplied to the Super 15 organising body, Sanzar, by Repucom, South African viewers made up 62% of the Super 15 television audience in 2011.
"We're taking a firm stand because South African sides bring the most commercial value to the table. You only have to look at the broadcast deal to understand that," said Sharks chief executive Brian van Zyl.
"Sanzar would be stupid not to help us."
The television trend in favour of South Africa has been apparent for several years. Local channel Supersport, pays the most for broadcast rights. Simply put, SA brings in the most money and viewers -yet income is shared equally between the three national unions.
"If you look at the television viewership, we (South Africans) are the basis of the whole agreement," said Bulls chief executive Barend van Graan.
"Sanzar must be reasonable because we have a unique situation in our country and they must give a little to make the whole process sustainable on our side. If one team were relegated, it would probably be the end of them."
Supersport has said it will follow Saru's lead.
Counting against South Africa's proposal is a feeling that there is no appetite for expansion on the other side of the Indian Ocean. Sanzar chief executive Greg Peters has already dismissed the likelihood.
"Sanzar has sold the current structure of Super rugby to broadcasters and commercial partners for a period ending on December 31, 2015. Until that time, expansion is not possible," he said.
Australian Rugby Union boss, and Sanzar board member, John O'Neill agreed, saying: "We're in the second year of a five-year deal in which we sold to the broadcasters a 15-team competition. Changing that deal in midstream is not really on."
The situation has become so delicate that Saru has tried to gag local Super 15 chief executives on the matter. Saru chief executive Jurie Roux has been negotiating contracts with Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer's potential back-room staff and is not keen to fly to Sydney, only to be told politely where to get off by his Australian and New Zealand counterparts.
If the five current Super 15 teams are so concerned, why did they vote to include the Kings next year? Only Van Zyl offered an insight.
"The Kings issue has been around so long, and there has been so much political pressure, that it was an emotional decision," Van Zyl said. "There is a hell of a lot of pressure being put on everyone, from equity partners to government, to include the Kings. It's such a hot potato, if only one union said no to the Kings inclusion, there could have been a backlash."