Pacific Island Super Rugby bid needs investor to front with $10-12 million

Nemani Nadolo is just one of many Pacific Island stars playing for teams throughout world rugby.
PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES

Nemani Nadolo is just one of many Pacific Island stars playing for teams throughout world rugby.

Calling all philanthropists, the Pacific Island's Super Rugby bid needs you.

Set aside all the emotive and endearing rhetoric and the push to include an Island team comes down to this: the need to find private backers willing to stump up $10-12 million per-year.

That's operating costs alone, covering everything from player and coaching wages to marketing, but does not take into account set-up overheads that could squeeze out at least another $5 million, depending on stadium and infrastructure needs. Travel is centrally covered under the Sanzaar model.

Fijian wing Patrick Osborne also represents the Highlanders.
DIANNE MANSON/PHOTOSPORT

Fijian wing Patrick Osborne also represents the Highlanders.

Momentum is gathering to finally offer the Pacific Islands a Super Rugby lifeline, and a chance to retain their wealth of talent that, for many years, flew off to benefit other rugby nations.

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But as Sanzaar gathers information and plots its first long-term plan with the help of consultancy company Accenture, the reality is revenue will be a major factor when decisions about the future of the competition are made in November.

Positive noises are being made from potential investors, but no-one has yet logged a concrete case to prop up an Island team.  

Suva put on a show last week by staging its first Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Crusaders. The Fijian government contributed around $1.6 million for the one-off game, with that figure largely driven by tourism.

But it is understood a number of boxes need to be ticked before a combined Island team gains signoff.

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A team based solely in Apia, Suva or Nuku'alofa is not considered commercially sustainable - the numbers simply don't stack up if the team is to survive.  

Even the Chiefs take two of seven home games a year outside Hamilton as there's only so much that can be extracted from such a market week after week.

Auckland and western Sydney, where there is talk of replacing the Perth-based Western Force, are alternative destinations to supplement staging games in the Pacific.

Hawaii is unlikely, as it's a direct tourist threat. But Asia, specifically Hong Kong or Singapore, are more viable options, though the latter is problematic with Japan's Tokyo-based Sunwolves hosting three matches there this season.  

When it comes to the Pacific, the issue of governance also needs to be addressed. World Rugby have had on-going challenges around the accountability of funding, most recently with Tonga but also with Samoa during the 2011 World Cup.

The best way to satisfy concerns is to have a largely separate entity to the national unions - akin to the situation in New Zealand where most Super Rugby teams operate at a distance from provincial bases and harness some form of private ownership.

Then there are the players. It could take up to three years for an Island team to regain its best talent, with so many now based in Europe on long-term agreements.

Even then, the money on offer in the Southern Hemisphere can't compete with that in France, England or Japan. Sacrifices like the ones Argentina's players made will need to be matched.

Sanzaar would also need to be assured that there will be no player welfare issues like those that see Fijian players snapped up by French clubs as teenagers, only to be spat out the other end.

High performance academy systems that provide education and pathways would need to be established.

Once all these boxes are ticked, Sanzaar still needs to sell the proposal to broadcasters who have agreed to the current format through to 2020.

The same process will be followed with other countries - Canada is understood to be one - who have expressed an interest in joining.

So while the dream of welcoming a combined team from the Pacific remains alive and well, an investor willing to fund the team is still a vital missing piece of the equation.

 - Stuff

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