The current Super Rugby broadcasting deal runs out at the end of 2020 and one of the more eye-catching proposals put forth has been for a new franchise based in Hawaii.
A recent report out of New Zealand has suggested a consortium also interested in the Warriors NRL team plans to bring Super Rugby to America’s 50th state.
That certainly would be an exciting development, providing both the Pacific Islands and the US itself with direct involvement in the competition.
Perhaps the team could take on a distinctive Polynesian identity with a catchment area including Samoa and Tonga, which share a common cultural heritage with Hawaii.
Meanwhile, the team’s involvement in Super Rugby would open the door to the lucrative American television and sponsorship markets.
Honolulu has a greater population of almost one million and a football stadium with a 50,000 capacity – which has staged rugby games in the past.
There are daily flights between Auckland and Honolulu, of about eight-and-a-half hours’ duration, and only a two hour time difference (although Hawaii is a day behind). This would make it the perfect fit for the New Zealand conference in the event of expansion.
Super Rugby Expansion
The obvious question is will SANZAAR want to expand again after its most recent attempt proved unsuccessful? Many fans remain convinced the single round-robin format worked best.
It would be disappointing to see any further reduction of teams, however. The round-robin may have worked well but the game has got to grow, and locking down on a format with no scope for expansion would repeat the mistake of the 6 Nations, a highly successful championship but an exclusive one which has stifled the game’s development elsewhere.
Continued growth must happen, but with a great deal more caution than in the past. A strict criteria needs to be put in place and no more bullying tactics or horse-trading among the respective national unions.
Argentina should probably get a second franchise before long to help sustain its involvement in The Rugby Championship. The long-term aim might be an entire South American conference, perhaps with Uruguayan and/or Brazilian involvement – albeit a few decades away.
If the proposed Hawaiian team were included in the New Zealand conference, and a second South American franchise added to the South African conference, would it be necessary to also increase the Australian conference in order to keep things balanced? Probably not, and Australia has struggled to field four competitive teams, let alone five.
But, if so, the Fijian Drua could be a viable option, especially if withdrawn from Australia’s domestic competition to allow the same funding to go toward supporting the team in Super Rugby. Fiji was a founding member of the South Pacific Series, the forerunner to Super Rugby, after all.
Three Conferences of Six
Certainly, three conferences of six would be preferable to the convoluted model adopted for the 2016 and 2017 seasons, and could run with exactly the same play-off system as Super 15. Thus it might look something like the following:
- New Zealand Conference: Crusaders, Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Highlanders, Hawaiian Islanders.
- South African Conference: Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers, Jaguares, Cordoba (Argentina).
- Australian Conference: Waratahs, Reds, Brumbies, Rebels, Sunwolves, Fijian Drua.
Returning briefly to the long-term future, we may eventually be looking at a complete separation along Pacific and Atlantic lines, the New Zealand and Australian conferences playing in one division, the South African and South American conferences in the other, with limited contact during the regular season, but all leading to a Super Bowl-like finale between the respective winners.
Another matter which needs revisiting is the issue of geographical names. These should be reinstated for overseas tours to give the teams a proper identity. We can see what huge fan bases professional soccer and basketball teams have established all around the world. Pilgrimages to the home-towns of famous sports clubs have become an increasing tourism trend, in fact.
Super Rugby is attempting to break into the same markets, and would likely meet with more success if the teams revived their geographical names. The Blues, Lions, Sharks and Reds just aren’t going to mean much to anybody in America or China.
Author: Quentin Poulsen
I am a former New Zealand sports writer and founder of the Wellington American football competition, which ran from the 1990s until the 2010s. I traveled to Spain to teach at the turn of the century, and have been in Turkey since 2005. During the past several years I have taken a keen interest in third tier rugby, watching countless games via live streaming.