Moffett fears major rugby unions are “bleeding to death”

David Moffett, the former CEO of the New Zealand and Wales rugby unions, helped shape professional rugby and is calling on the major Northern Hemisphere nations to start sharing test match income to help the game avoid a world-wide financial melt-down.

As a key rugby administrator, Moffet was one of the chief architects of SANZAR -before Argentina joined New Zealand, Australia and South Africa-  established Welsh regional rugby and has taken decisions that have attracted plenty of flak from fans and fellow officials during his career.

With the sport facing unprecedented financial pressures due to the coronavirus pandemic, Unions are struggling to stay solvent which brings us to the thorny subject of revenue sharing. With a home England international generating up to £12m a match for the Rugby Football Union, it is natural that teams like New Zealand want to a significant slice of the action while the Pacific Islands nations would be happy with just 10 per cent.

However, England matches at Twickenham deliver 85% of the RFU’s finances and the idea of spreading the wealth to aid the Southern Hemisphere nations is an anathema to many, particularly with the RFU facing big losses this year. It cost hundreds of millions of pounds to create a major stadia like Twickenham and the RFU question why, for example, New Zealand do not have a similarly large arena with state of the art hospitality facilities. To increase revenue the All Blacks have to become a travelling attraction, getting a share of the gate wherever they appear and World Cup winners South Africa would make a similar argument.

Moffett expects the major Southern Hemisphere unions to play hard ball over the issue and told RugbyPass the looming presence of private equity company CVC, which is buying a share of European rugby, should act as a warning. He explained: “Because of this virus the Southern Hemisphere unions are bleeding to death and how are they going to replenish  their coffers if it’s not through some kind of agreement with the wealthy unions? I can absolutely see that happening and the only role for World Rugby in this is as a broker because they cannot dictate to an individual union what happens to their gate money.

“ The Southern Hemisphere nations are going to be agitating more and more for a share of the gates when they play in the North and that will be resisted. Equalisation of income has to be on the table and the major Southern Hemisphere countries may have to play hard ball to get a change. For the Pacific Islands nations it’s a double whammy because they get nothing for playing the top Northern Hemisphere teams who don’t tour in the Islands. That has to be looked at. It won’t be easy but the current crisis can be a catalyst for change involving the big 12 Unions because if we get another of these viruses next year the game will just disappear.

“The sport has to come up with solutions rather than let outside organisations come in and take control by way of ownership. There will be posturing and veiled threats but the game has to work out how rugby is going to survive.

“CVC are circling around the top of the sport and will they be good for rugby in the long term? I don’t think so. When I was on the Six Nations I fought to keep the tournament on free to air because there are some things you don’t stuff around with and one of them is the best competition in the world. I am not sure that CVC understand what the fans want. The English Premiership and the French Top14 knock Super Rugby for six because they are tribal, authentic and have promotion and relegation and England would be crazy to ever do away with that.

“Super Rugby has been a disaster. We started with 12 teams but chased quantity not quality and it’s a lop sided competition. Crowds and viewership are down and what sport transports its players around the Southern Hemisphere every year – it’s crazy. Japan is attracting more players because it’s not as competitive has fewer matches and they can earn a lot of money. “

Moffett also delivered a withering verdict on World Rugby just days after Bill Beaumont was given another four years as chairman of the sport’s governing body. Moffett, who has also held the roles of CEO with  Australia’s NRL and the same position with Sport England, remains passionate about the sport and is demanding clarity of purpose from the governing body. “The solution for the international game is to get World Rugby to tell us what their purpose is and to be honest about it:” he added.” What do they mean by a global season?

“It is a global season for the 12 best teams in the World and it’s not about anything else. It is all about the money and World Rugby have taken their eye off the ball when it comes to the laws of the game and the mode of play. Everything we hear about is centred on the professional game but where are those players going to come from? They don’t just knock on your door they come from a school or a club and there needs to be a balance struck but I don’t see that happening.

“ The laws are absolutely atrocious because they have fiddled around with them to encompass the way some coaches want to play the game. The game used to be played by players on their feet and now we have guys wrestling on the ground and endless time spent on resetting scrums. Do fans want to watch that rubbish?

“They like the sexy end where all the money is and they have forgotten about the 99 per cent of people playing the game because of the pursuit of money. They will say they are concerned about the grass roots of the game but none of their actions prove that is true. The majority of fans I speak to would prefer longer tours and watch  a three test series between New Zealand and England and the success of the British and Irish Lions tours prove this. I firmly believe that the professional game should be primarily aimed at promoting the amateur game and provide financial support because they are not separate entities. We are losing this.”

“Unfortunately, what we have got a massive disconnect between the professional game and the community game and I didn’t care who got the job of chairman of World Rugby, because I don’t have faith that either of them actually understands what the role and purpose of World Rugby is.