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Six Nations vs Tri-Nations: And the money goes to …

International rugby is really squaring up to a North vs. South battle between the hemispheres, as to who gets to harvest the financial returns or not.

The next five years will be particularly challenging for the Sanzar countries in spite of them occupying the top three slots of the International Rugby Board rankings, with little financial returns.

The performance on the field of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia does not equate financially, to that off the field, to the France, Ireland, England, Wales combo that delivers powerhouse financial returns.

The Sanzar unions with the addition of Argentina — who are in 6th place in the world rankings — from 2012 and beyond as the Quad Nations, have yet to seek out new theatres of rugby tournaments and underwriters, to financially compete with the rugby products of the Six Nations, Heineken Cup, Guinness Premiership Super 14 and even Magners League, who have now introduced two Italian “Super Clubs”.

International “cross-pollination” amongst the Northern Hemisphere rugby union nations and their respective players is working a financial charm for the Six Nations and Heineken Cup, while Sanzar are dishing up the same fare of Super 14/15 and Tri-Nations and are in danger of presenting the same ho-hum tournaments, this has led to plummeting gate attendances and declining television viewership. This is not good for the sponsors anchoring each of the three unions. Sponsors want growth in numbers of spectators on site and they want television audiences to tune in to support their products and services.

In Australia, a sports mad country, the top 10 most watched programs in 2008 on free-to-air television, were sports, yet rugby union was not in this group. The addition of a 15th Super Rugby franchise in Melbourne, cannot be left to the Rebels to invigorate the game but the whole approach to Super Rugby and not just Super 15, is going to need an extreme make over by Sanzar and soon.

The old Sanzar broadcasting agreement with Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd organisations was worth $340-million over five years.

Now the new broadcast deal, which will run from 2011-2015, for another five years, will be worth a total of $400-million — an increase of about 20%, which will be split equally 3 ways between South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. At first glance this looks like a lucrative broadcast sponsorship.

But break this down to $80-million per annum and split that again amongst the three Sanzar partners each getting $26,6-million a year and the money starts to look lean, very lean with Newscorp getting a great deal.

The positive economic impact of Super Rugby in each of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia is limited to say the least, with the declining gate attendances and television viewership, so much so that each of the Sanzar unions have had to step in and throw lifelines to one or more of their respective franchises in each country.

Conversely, the positive economic impact of the 2010 rugby union Six Nations tournament is a monstrous $632,81-million, as quoted from a report commissioned by Mastercard.

Total attendance at the Six Nations matches was 1 054 654, while the total television audience across all matches was estimated to be 125 million, with three matches drawing viewerships of over 10 million — France vs Ireland, Wales vs France, and France vs England.

The Tri-Nations and Super Rugby tournaments pale into comparison with these numbers. The average gate attendance for home and away matches in the 2009 Super 14 was 27 000.

The report emphasises the popularity of the Friday night scheduling of the Six Nations France vs Wales match — which attracted a full house at the Millennium Stadium and an estimated 10,5-million television viewers.

England received the biggest economic benefit from the tournament, with a $132,82-million boost, followed by Ireland with $123,06- million, then France, $122,1-million, Wales, $109-million, Scotland, $94,56-million, and Italy, $51,27-million.

Now compare that to the receipt of $26,6-million by each of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia in broadcast revenues and double it to $53-million for a “generous positive economic impact” for good measure and still the Southern Hemisphere does not come even close to the revenues of the 6 Nations.

Rugby participation is increasing in the Six Nations, so says the report commissioned by MasterCard, a sponsor of the tournament, with increases since 2007 for Italy put at 36%, for Ireland 33%, Scotland 32%, France 22%, Wales 10%, but England only by 5%.

The MasterCard survey carried out by the International Business of Sport (CIBS) at Coventry University, analysed attendances, TV audience, visitor spend on tickets, accommodation, food and drink and other economic indicators in the tournament, which ran over five weekends during February and March and was won by France.

Five weekends in the Northern Hemisphere, certainly, financially, beats hands down the five months of Super Rugby and two months of Tri-Nations of the Southern Hemisphere.

The Southern Hemisphere has a mish-mash of tournaments and fixtures that have outlived their sell by date and the time is upon the Sanzar unions to rejuvenate and reinvent their tournaments with an extreme makeover that brings sponsors, spectators and viewers back to rugby union.