Future of rugby: Club model based on social enterprise
OPINION: Erudite Springbok turned pundit Dawie Snyman is back with another of his elucidating and disporting columns.
Club rugby has the potential to bring together an entire community and town by focusing on a common goal.
This can be achieved through a structure that could potentially be created as a result of rugby – which will allow the economic potential of the town to be expanded and unlocked to the benefit of the entire community that it serves.
Involvement in such an activity can be a great joy and put smiles on people’s faces.
In my previous column, I put forward the idea of an optimal and sustainable economic free market-based rugby model for South Africa.
It is an interesting perspective in the times in which we live in today.
It has its origins in the COVID-19-enforced environment we find ourselves in, after the virus brought everything to a standstill.
It caused a review of where they are busy at the rugby environment and how sustainable it is.
The big concern is the declining numbers in terms of spectators and participants.
The history of the game tells us that the origin of the game had its ethos in the social need of man to get together and how they spend their leisure time. Free time is something that is increasingly available today, because of the technological revolution. Given the social needs of humans, rugby is a tool to use in growing the numbers of people socializing – both in terms of playing and spectators.
It, growth, is something we are not seeing.
To criticize is one issue, but to put a plan of change on the table is another matter altogether. My feedback on the previous column was good, but you simply cannot see how the current system of centralisation of power will be decentralised.
It is logical why this [centralisation] is the current thought-process, because no one really knows the potential of decentralised.
That is why I would like to explain the logical idea of the strength-against-strength format of the rugby pyramid – based on the hierarchical compilation of SA Rugby and its economic potential. It is why the rights and strength of clubs and the player really matters.
If you categorise the year – starting with the compulsory break (vacation), then play the various competitions from the lowest and build to a climax.
You can take it a step further – not lump it all together, but schedule and evenly spread it across the year.
It is like an artist who first adds the ‘Primer’, then the background, before the painter begins to add the details that create that awesome picture.
The quality of the final picture is derived from the many details – not just one aspect of it.
Most importantly, there should always be a balance in the painting and not one-thing that dominates the others.
The hierarchical model of SA Rugby:
The clubs make up the unions and the unions constitute SA Rugby. Clubs vote for the management of unions and the unions vote for the management of SA Rugby. In a nutshell, if the clubs are struggling, it is their own doing – as the unions do not act in the interests of or look after the clubs. They simply select a new management. The same applies to SA Rugby. Currently, all the power and finances of club rugby are situated in the unions and at SA Rugby. They scratch each other’s backs, but time is running out for this system.
In a decentralised model, the clubs will decide on the ideal model and the eight weeks of the year that are allocated exclusively to them. All players who want to play for the Springboks have a responsibility to take part in this and should be involved as shown in the graphic.
Next will following competitions like the Currie Cup, Super Rugby and internationals.
A potential economic model for club rugby
In South Africa tare nine provinces – eight metropolises, with 44 districts and 226 municipalities. Rugby is not a preferred sport in these, but it would be ideal if it were.
The hypothesis, in a new dispensation, is as follows: There should be five clubs from each of the eight metropolises – 40 clubs. There should be four clubs from each of the 44 districts – 176 clubs. It will give us a total of 216 premium A-league clubs in SA.
We are aware that there are many more clubs in certain areas, but they should be organised in a such a geographical manner, in a rugby system, to ensure no one is excluded and everyone has the opportunity to progress to the highest level. Efficiency, along with promotion and relegation at all levels will ensure that each club is awarded and will achieve its correct position in the hierarchy.
It is also important that all regions organize school systems and affiliation so that the future of the game is ensured in the area. Junior systems must be positioned at each club and encouraged so that sustainability is a reality.
Several years ago, a friend of mine took it on himself to revive rugby in his town. They had raised ZAR1-million for the club through various initiatives and activities throughout the year. Due to the current competition structure of provincial, Super Rugby and international matches, the sustainability of the involvement of the public was not possible. It was just asking too much. The reality of any initiative like this and its sustainability depends on the need for the product. Hence the slow progress in SA Rugby.
If this unfair competition system can be eliminated, the roots of the tree can be repaired again. Nutrition of the roots is now necessary. In my opinion, the economic potential of each club is around ZAR200,000 per year. Multiplied by 216 clubs, then the potential income from club rugby is between ZAR45-million and ZAR50-million per annum.
It sounds unfathomable. If a town’s economic system is mobilised behind such a club system, it can be turned around – because of the social needs of humans. However, it must be financially sustainable to be able to serve as social entrepreneurship.
Social order: Why will this system work?
The answer is obvious. Everyone in the town operates at the same level, with a common goal – mobilised by rugby. There is a communal involvement of large and small businesses from the town. It will involve Springboks, provincial and club players – with some newcomers to this premium club competition that will deliver a few more future Springboks. They all work at the same level, with a common goal. Everyone gets to know everyone in the town, and everyone talks about the contest ahead and past matches.
Under the club system’s development of talent, you will have juniors, schools and feeder clubs like the hostel leagues at the universities. All the feeder clubs are just one step away from the premium club competition. The expectation of higher honours is always there.
A prime example is Niel Burger, who played in a Currie Cup Final, because the systems and pathways allowed it. At the tender age of 19, he struck the nail in the mighty North Transvaal’s coffin – just a month after having played for Stellenbosch’s Under-19 A team.
It can happen again.
One of the biggest reasons for the success in the five golden years of WP – when they won five successive Currie Cup titles – can be found in the absence of B-Team matches. Club rugby was elevated to a new, higher, level. When there were injuries, there were as many as eight players ready to step in, because of the enhances levels of club rugby. It was an honour for clubs to have players in the provincial team.
In a free-market system, the entrepreneurship can be further expanded when a player that was raised and schooled by the club is elevated to the next competition level (provincial competition). The player is then ‘bought’ from the club in the form of a match fee – even a transfer fee if the period (service) is extended. That is another source of income that can be unlocked by the club. A valuable club coach or coaching staff can be a great financial asset to the club (organization). If there was ever an example of such a person in the history of SA Rugby, it is Danie Craven.
The knowledge of the group is always better than the knowledge of the individual.
One of the most valuable lessons, I regret, was that I did not unlock the decentralisation of knowledge, initiative, potential and innovation by making use of ‘outside the box’ concepts. That I hit the targets sporadically is true, but that there are many other cases that I could have handled better. The most important matter is not what we have done, but what we are going to do in the future.
The future lies ahead of us and not behind us.
Sports tourism linked to geographic tourism is a mass market.
These two aspects are without a doubt very large, potential income streams that can be tackled on a micro- and macro-level. They can also effectively address the educational aspects more than just financial needs. Every region in South SA has its unique skills to be packaged and unlocked by the schools or town tournaments. The bigger the variety of the dimensions are placed in one package, the cheaper the per-unit it becomes and the more the finances become decentralised to where it is needed. We can set up a business plan and have the knowledge for it in every town.
Now what about the player and its rights and privileges?
We are talking here about the base of the pyramid. New talent is developed and added here. Senior players make their contribution to the community that they are helping and shape the path that they have developed along the way. Everybody must get their rightful slice of the cake, but no one should take more than he has generated on the proverbial path. Because it is a new business world that we enter, these pay packages should still be developed. The performance path of the club and the development of the business model of the club will play a determining role here.
TV exposure from the three different sources will follow the quality and uniqueness of the clubs and events. The community’s interest will ensure the added value. This will also hold improved financial implications for the organisation. These are all aspects that need to be incorporated into the master plan.
These are just a few examples and there are many other possibilities.
Unlocking the opportunities and energy can only be for the benefit of SA Rugby in the long run. Nothing is taken away from someone and everyone’s powers and rights are merely compartmentalised and specific time is allocated.
However, between the compartments there are limited zones to include the promotion-relegation aspect that allows the strength-versus-strength factor to move to the highest level.
Let us enjoy watching talking and thinking rugby!
By Dawie Snyman