Tuesday 28 May 2024

Paying back heartland rugby for making 'Big Rugby' possible.

Yet again, NZ rugby is finding ways to shoot itself in the foot.

To fix the multiple and growing problems it has made for itself —  increasing fan disconnection with the game; decreasing interest in "franchise rugby"; the disconnections between the amateur and professional games; the withering of heartland rugby and the slow death of the NPC and provincial rugby —different groups are arguing over different ways to rearrange the deck chairs in the back office, which is going to change very little of what's been happening out front.

Here's an idea. A simple one. A simple idea to directly and organically link the money-making areas of the game with the grassroots, and to reward the makers of the homegrown player: How about when a player "goes to the show," those who helped make that player successful are rewarded. 

That is to say (based on the current set-up), if a player is selected from his/her club to go to provincial level, money is directed back to the club, perhaps in proportion to the player's playing fee. They're rewarded for growing and nurturing that talent. And even though they lose the player for some of the season, the club and its coaches and support folk will still see reward for their effort. And will be motivated to do more in future.

Take that principle to the next level.

Let's say a player is then selected for higher honours, even to a Super "franchise" to which the club is not linked. Then a portion of that higher fee will then be directed down to the province, and also down to their club. Once again, everyone who played a part in growing and nurturing that player is rewarded, and all of them retain on ongoing interest in their success, even if (as happens too often now) they never see the player again except on the telly.

But see them on the telly now and club/province/region is just as happy, 'cos they know they're going to be rewarded for the player's success. Everybody's smiling.

The same principle would apply to national honours, and even to a player's Japanese or Euro sabbatical. In the professional era, that means a professional payment. And a portion of that too should head back to the heartland, keeping the whole rugby community tied together, instead of squabbling over the doling out of ever-decreasing spoils. 

There are about 280 full-time players across the men’s and women’s games in New Zealand, and more overseas - not to mention the many receiving payments of some kind. Imagine of some portion from all of them were directed back very visibly to those who helped make their success possible.

So instead of withering away as the higher levels of rugby grow fat, as they are now, heartland rugby instead gets a chance to grow fat with them, most especially the clubs, coaches and provinces who are most successful at selecting, nurturing and producing the best talent.

The system used to work in Australian football until the marketing bunnies took over there too. It can work just as well here.

I'm not simply saying "go back go the good old days," but there were things that worked then that can still be encouraged to work now — most particularly the strong links between clubs and the upper levels, with fans showing loyalty to their regional reps because they'd been elevated from their own clubs, and the players themselves retaining that connection — club first — coming back and playing and supporting and helping out around the club.  Not as a matter of charity, but because that's just what you did. Just like the famous ethic of "cleaning the sheds."

Fan loyalty is key, 'cos in the end that's where the money comes from (either from fans themselves, or from sponsors who want to be in front of fans' eyes). And also key is to keep directing large amounts of that money back into producing the players who make the game possible, especially to the clubs who make it all possible.

So clubs are still the place where it needs to all happen. At the moment when players arrive at the big time it's like they've landed from the moon. Clubs lose their players and live off crumbs while administrators ignore them, and commentators rarely talk about them. Change the way that money flows, however, and commentators might start talking up the players' clubs, provinces and their previous coaches and mentors, and all of them might receive both more respect and a regular payday. 

This would be a way to begin paying back those in heartland rugby who make Big Rugby possible.

1 comment:

MarkT said...

I can see that’s a great idea and it would work, even though I know little about rugby. Get the incentives right, and the details that everyone is squabbling over usually look after themselves. It’s a perspective that’s sadly lacking though, as if managers want to make things more complex than they need to be - which is undoubtedly true in the public service, but you see it in the private sector too.

Applying that same principle to local government infrastructure and housing shortage's, can I assume you’re also in favour of Act’s proposal to give half the GST from new building to local government? It’s not a perfect free market solution of course, but a similar thing apparently works wonders in Switzerland where local governments compete with each other to attract new development rather than put barriers in their way.