The Western Force are back on the park and determined to make up for lost time
Mr Forrest said he was wanted to rectify the “injustice” of the Western Force’s expulsion from Super Rugby. (AAP: Richard Wainwright)
We were promised a fast-paced, new age disrupted version of rugby and there is no doubt the debut of the reborn Western Force was a bit different.
Mr Forrest appears determined to make the Indo-Pacific Championship a success. (AAP: Richard Wainwright)
The sight of mining magnate Andrew Forrest striding on to the playing field before kick-off while hooked up to the ground’s PA is something you wouldn’t see at your regular Super Rugby game.
“I need everyone in this stadium to know we reach out to you as fellow West Australians,” Mr Forrest thundered to the crowd of almost 20,000 people.
“As people who know that last year was a great injustice, and one which we are here to right and your presence here tonight makes this right.”
The Fortescue Metals Group boss said he was determined to keep the Force alive in the interests of WA rugby fans.
“You are the reason I did this,” he said.
“When my family said to me Dad you cannot let this happen, husband you cannot let this happen.
“It is because of the tragedy of injustice written on your faces that made this evening come true. We are back.”
Opening up new frontiers
The Force returned to action this month, defeating Fiji 24-14 in the World Series Rugby competition. (AAP: Richard Wainwright)
The Force is again playing rugby even if it is a series of invocational friendlies.
The standard in the Force’s win against Fiji was good, the crowd was outstanding (even though plenty of free tickets were handed out) and the fact it is on TV is a huge win even if the ratings were modest.
It is the first step in creating an eight-team home and away Indo-Pacific championship, featuring teams from Asia, the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand in 2020.
But is that the end game, and is it realistic?
Prominent and respected sports administrator Nick Marvin is now the Force CEO.
He was instrumental in reinventing Australian basketball as Chairman of the NBL and CEO of the Perth Wildcats.
“I think the most significant part of my previous life was to privatise the NBL which was failing miserably under the auspices of Basketball Australia,” he said.
“I have always believed that peak national sporting bodies are very good at governance, they are very good at officiating, they are very good at integrity — most of the time.
“But commercialising their product or their league has not always been their strong-suit.”
Game on the wane
The crowd of 19,466 to see the Force play Fiji was the biggest rugby crowd in Australia this year. (AAP: Richard Wainwright)
The appeal of Super Rugby in Australia is diminishing.
Attendances and TV viewership are falling, and the game has failed to evolve.
Highest Australian rugby crowds of 2018
|19,466||Force v Fiji||Perth||May 4|
|16,135||Rebels v Hurricanes||Melbourne||March 30|
|15,684||Waratahs v Reds||Sydney||April 14|
|14,002||Reds v Chiefs||Brisbane||April 21|
|13,515||Brumbies v Waratahs||Canberra||March 31|
There has been speculation some South African teams may leave and join the Europe’s lucrative Pro14 league.
That competition comprises teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy, and the two South African franchises cut from the Super Rugby competition along with the Force.
Super Rugby’s difficulties — and concerns about its long-term future — have sparked discussion about the possibility of a trans-Tasman league between Australia and New Zealand.
But Marvin says that would not be a realistic outcome.
“A trans-Tasman product is not commercially viable,” he said.
“The types of salaries we need to pay players across the competition compared to Europe means you have to have a much bigger audience and a much bigger commercial balance sheet.”
He said focussing on developing the game in the Asia-Pacific was far more attractive an option.
“You’re talking about 80 per cent of the world’s youth in the Asian region and 60 per cent of the world’s population,” Marvin told the ABC.
“If you can have a competition that uses the rugby talent of Australia and New Zealand embedded with the appetite for rugby in the Asia-Pacific then you may be able to put together a product that has enough viewership and attendance to make it commercially viable.”
There is no end of blue-sky thinking in the Force camp, but first step will be getting the fundamentals right and reconnecting with the rugby community.
“We need to build tribalism. We need to build a fan base,” Marvin said.
“We need to build an engaging fan base and that is our goal for this year while we are trying a whole bunch of stuff, which is the exciting part.”
The good news for rugby fans in Western Australia is Mr Forrest appears to be in it for the long haul, and he has shown previously an ability to create something from nothing.