Most rugby fans would find nothing more attractive than England v New Zealand. Better still at Twickenham, in front of a full crowd. Top class rugby and you would expect that both unions would want to sign the date–but no. Confirmation of next year’s Autumn International fixture list was devoid of the biggest clash in World Rugby.
Why, you ask? If Last Word On Rugby were to tell you it was ‘to build up the fixture, to be even bigger in the future’ then we would be deceiving you. No, it is far less based on competition than on financial return. And that is what is really upsetting for rugby fans across the globe. It is like, the gates are locked (see main picture).
Why Must Fans Wait for England v New Zealand?
Two men are entangled in a clash of ego and status, with Rugby Football Union (RFU) head Ian Ritchie ‘facing off’ against New Zealand Rugby (NZR) head, Steve Tew. Probably the most powerful men in rugby–beside Bill Beaumont or Brett Gosper–and it is a stare down that will cost the rugby public more than it will cost either union. The issue is financial, but it is more than that.
The value of this match is in the millions. Gate takings are what drives rugby [beside broadcast rights] but to be frank, both parties need to act in good will. Both dangle this fixture in fans faces, yet pull it away time and again. How did it come to this you ask?
Ian Ritchie takes a position of ‘what is the RFU’s income, are RFU funds’ while on the other side of the world, Steve Tew is throwing [pointless] barbs that NZR will take their ball, and play on other fields if the RFU do not share the gate. No man is taking a backward step, out of shear stubbornness or to protect their asset.
Each Party Has Their Own Agenda
Unfortunate. Complicated, and even complicit. The main parties have their own agenda, have their members and stakeholders to consider obviously and will protect their investment/their brand to the end.
For example, this autumn Ritchie sought to defend the governing body after it emerged England’s chiefs had rejected the Fiji’s request for £150,000 of the £10m revenue that is expected to be generated from the England v Fiji game.
“It is not England’s responsibility to help fund world rugby.”
In terms of Fiji, the funding model from World Rugby is there to help. And with the 290 million dollar profit from the RWC2015 Profit and Loss report, that will assist unions such as Fiji [Tier Two] who can benefit most. Of course, that does not include NZR (and fair enough) but to with hold such a crucial game like England v New Zealand; just because each union disagree over a distribution of wealth, seems churlish at best.
And that is why ‘rugby is the loser’.
No Fixture Can Be Worth More Than The Game
While some fans would pay anything to see England v New Zealand, many will do so because of tradition and/or world rugby rankings. The All Blacks have sat at the top of the rankings for ten years plus. England last held that position from the early 2000’s and were worthy holders. The two sides are World Champions, each hold an allure among rugby fans worldwide–but if there is no match in-between World Cups, then where is the value in that?
When England beat the All Blacks in 2012, it was in fact ‘good for the game’. It was a win for the team [Stuart Lancaster’s most famous day] but it rebuilt a rivalry that is well worth keeping. England v New Zealand is the game many fans want. The Haka (above) at Twickenham is one of the best sights in Autumn. So when will these two sides next meet?
This is your guess, as much as ours. And it is a sad state of affairs. No international calendar exists. No future tours program is in place, and even though Bill Beaumont may want it in place, even he cannot ‘twist the arm’ of Ritchie or Tew. It seems the teams have the organization in a vice-grip. And that is bad for the game.
Fans Should Hold The Power
In any market, the product has a value. If it is a limited resource, then the value is high. If England v New Zealand has not been scheduled, it is an intangible. A match that ‘may or may not’ occur. And no value can be placed on that.
Twickenham seats, as much as London house prices, as exorbitantly high. RBS Six Nations tickets for the England v France fixture have become available for RFU Affiliated Club and Debenture Holders. Such exclusive offers maybe more common in rugby–as the fixture list determines demand. A Six Nations clash will be a sellout!
And naturally would the England v New Zealand date, if it was scheduled. Exclusive to the point of ‘elevated prices’ but for the average rugby fan, it gets more and more difficult to afford. The 2017 Lions tour general sale tickets were only offered by a ballot, such was the limited number–exclusive packages are now the only way to watch the All Blacks play the Lions.
Fans Will Have To Be Satisfied With The Lions Tour
With news that the 2017 calendar is remiss of an England v New Zealand match could be due to the massive clash between the British and Irish Lions. They tour New Zealand in June, so is that enough to hold fans attention? Of course–during June that is. In the English summer, their team will tour Argentina. An able contest, but most will watch for the ‘cream of talent’ to be requested to don the red shirt of the Lions.
Post-Lions series, sides will need to make do with the calendar announced by the RFU. And certainly, Twickenham will often be full–fans love their rugby. Argentina, Australia and Samoa have been announced, but any respecting rugby watcher would agree. They would love England v New Zealand even more.
How Long Must Fans Wait?
That is the question for World Rugby to influence. A global calendar has been mooted, but it seems as difficult to design as a rugby that bounces evenly. It maybe impossible to forecast when or who might be the one to indicate that a date is set. Ritchie may want the All Blacks to come begging. Steve Tew may believe that the only way the number two side could usurp his side, would be to permit New Zealand a ‘cut of the gate’.
He told stuff.co.nz “If it means we have to wait another 12 months to see who the best team is between the All Blacks and England, so be it.” Quipping;
“they might put the ticket prices up even more, which will be good for us because we get… oh no, zero per cent.”
While that comment may have been made in jest, should fans hold their breath? Yes, just like those in the rugby media. All should want the relationship to become more conciliatory. That seems to be the only way that the game will be put first. Fans talk of the emotional factor, as they believe in the team. The administrators can speak of brands, sponsor clashes or market reach but it should come down to the pure fact that ‘fans are demanding this match’.
The stakeholders should always be the primary consideration. Ritchie, Tew and all of World Rugby must remember that. And set the date sooner, rather than later.
“Main photo credit”
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