Melbourne Rebels Super 15: Up and Running?

Melbourne Rebels Super 15: Up and Running?
Rebel without a cause

Rebel with a cause

Update 29 Sept: It has been reported in today’s media that the VRU Rebel’s bid Chairman (and media buying giant) Harold Mitchell has broken bread with VicSuper15 Group’s Ray Evans and Glenn Fowles, with a resultant merged board likely to result from the negotiations and with Mitchell appointed as Chairman.

If this is the case, a strong contender for ultimate control of the franchise would likely eventuate. This ‘merged’ group are reportedly due to meet ARU appointed ‘number cruncher’ John Wylie later this week for discussions.

It is not known whether the third bidder, the Belgravia Group, will have any role in this proposed partnership. This is positive news, especially for key stakeholder the VRU, who are fighting off attempts by the ARU  to seemingly cut them out of the action. 

Original Post

I’m confident that the argy bargy over the model for the new Super 15 side in Melbourne, once the Australian option is ratified by SANZAR, will establish a viable template for rugby operations within our Southern State and provide a new stream for expanding the international talent base within Australia.

Sure, it hasn’t been a great start by the ARU as they’ve managed to not only get the VRU offside but the other bidders as well. Interestingly, the ARU Board refused to concur with their own administration’s recommendations for a preferred private equity partner – VicSuper15.

Although you’d imagine the Board would have signed off on this model prior to going to tender. Maybe they’d just gotten cold feet or was it perceptions that JO’N had ridden roughshod over all the rugby stakeholders in Melbourne that hasn’t really gone down a treat? A potential red trouser day for ARU President Ron Graham perhaps?

It seems that consensus is going to be the answer. They’ve appointed a financial ‘guru’ to crunch the numbers and negotiate an outcome that will satisfy all concerned. Sounds a bit like socialism but hey, lets get it up and running before the Saffa Southern Kings (aka the Southern Spears) sneak up from behind and pull off a lekker snotklap!  

Isn’t it great that there has been significant interest in the franchise from Melbourne and beyond, and that there is real money ready to be invested in rugby’s spread throughout Australia. Melbourne is a corporate giant with a surprising number of rugby supporters amongst its AFL dominated elite. In fact, rugby was first played in Victoria in the 1840’s.

There are a fair number of private schools (in particular) that play and foster rugby union. In recent years quite a number of top quality players have originated from Victoria i.e. Digby Ioane, Rocky Elsom, Tamaiti Horua, Dave Fitter etc. In addition, club rugby is thriving and there is a strong base for future development throughout the state – they play it in Ballarat, Bendigo, Boroondara, Border Army, Rabbits, Great Wall of China, I’ve been everywhere man……  

This year, the  Combined States team at the Australian Schoolboys Championships (which contains Victorian players) were  finalists for the first time ever against a rugby playing state – Queensland 1. There were nine Victorian players selected in this side and today (27/9/09) there has been four Victorian boys selected in the Australia/Australia A sides to play NZ  Schoolboys in the next week or two. That’s evidence to me that the VRU and the ASRFU are doing a pretty credible job down there.  

It’ll be interesting to see how the Melbourne Rebels v Melbourne Storm competing franchise/code plays out. They’ll both be operating from the same location, the new 31,000 seat rectangular stadium at Olympic Park (in addition to the Melbourne Victory soccer team). This stadium will be completed early next year and is state of the art stuff.

The Storm of course have a head start and runs on the board in terms of success but they’ve never really cut it when it comes to corporate support, profit making and ‘bums on seats’. The Storm is owned by News Ltd and is losing money hand over fist.  In fact, they reportedly lost $6m in 2007 and are still bleeding. It appears the NRL artificially props it up and use it as a ‘loss leader’ in marketing terms. Television coverage of Storm games (not necessarily in Melbourne as it’s not live free-to-air) is what keeps it going. 

The Victorian Government have become strong supporters of  ‘rectangular stadium’ games. Soccer and rugby league are essentially the reason this stadium is being built. Not only for regular scheduled club matches but for internationals, inter state and related games. The initial Melbourne Rebels bid in 2005 was a contributing factor to this project. There was always a likelihood that Super 12/14 would expand and inevitably arrive at Melbourne’s door.  

All the available evidence suggests that there are many more rugby union supporters in Melbourne than mungos. Especially with that very large ex-pat Kiwi and Saffa connection down there. Like Perthfontein, a significant proportion of the supporter base will be barracking for the opposition but WTF, as long as they rock up. It might be like going to a Reds v Crusaders game where most of the fans seem to be decked out in red and black?  

Rectangular Stadium - ProgressAn important component to grow the game in Melbourne would be some sort of free-to-air coverage of rugby union. At the moment, no rugby of any code is shown FTA. This needs to be sorted in the negotiations with News Ltd for the new SANZAR contract. Well, it needs to be sorted with any FTA content in any state but realistically, if you wanted to grow rugby in new markets, i.e. WA and Victoria,  it’s ‘all the way with FTA’. 

Foxtel is great but FTA is the only track if its going to catch-on big time. That’s also dependent on the quality of the product but lets not go there just now……   

Once the orgnisational and administrative template is bedded down, the Melbourne Rebels will be looking at a coaching structure and recruitment drive. That’ll be the basis of my next post.   


Roscoe Tims (aka @LanceFree): A nasty, opinionated little man whose views are indeed narrow with a capital 'N'. Favourite Sport: mungo bashing. Does he ever have anything positive to say?

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