Wellington – An ambitious bid to set up a Pacific Islands Super Rugby team has failed after competition organisers decided it was not commercially viable, the Fiji Rugby Union said on Thursday.
Including a Pacific team in the southern hemisphere competition was seen as a game-changer for rugby in the islands, a hotbed of talent where top players have long headed overseas to chase more lucrative opportunities.
Fiji rugby chief John O’Connor confirmed that a joint bid from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga was submitted in June to Super Rugby governing body SANZAAR, which is currently examining how the competition will be structured from 2021 to 2030.
He said SANZAAR had praised aspects of the bid but ultimately rejected it on commercial grounds, saying it could not deliver “commercial uplift in both broadcasting and guaranteed underwrite”.
“(This) would render the viability of a Pacific Super team under the proposed SANZAAR commercial model unsustainable,” O’Connor said in a statement.
The Fiji Rugby Union did not detail the costings outlined in the bid but the Pacific Rugby Players’ Association said it would have required a minimum annual investment of $12 million.
“The decision was made within the Pacific that financially it didn’t stack up,” association chief Aayden Clarke told Radio New Zealand.
“The losers in that, if they were to put all their eggs in that basket of having a (Super Rugby) franchise team, would probably be community rugby and club rugby.”
Rugby fans have floated the idea of a combined Pacific team for years but it has always floundered on economic grounds.
The remote islands lack the economic base to attract major sponsors, facilities are poor and the financially strapped rugby unions of all three nations have faced major governance issues in recent years.
In the meantime, their best players have left for New Zealand, Australia and Europe.
The Super Rugby competition currently has 15 teams playing in five nations that straddle numerous timezones, making salaries and accommodation expensive.
SANZAAR has struggled prevent the competition becoming bloated while also expanding into new markets, culling the number of teams from 18 to 15 for the 2018 season.
Further changes are afoot from 2021, with reports in Australia suggesting Japan’s underperforming Sunwolves could be the latest team to face the axe.
SANZAAR has refused to comment, saying no final decisions have been made.