WHO BENEFITS FROM A P.I TEAM?
There are many stakeholders who would be involved with, and benefit from, a Pacific Island Super Rugby Franchise.
Here is why it is in each of their interests, to proactively work towards its creation.
Were SANZAAR to grant a licence to Dwayne Johnson to be the owner of a Pacific Island Super Rugby Franchise, he'd benefit in two ways.
Firstly, he'd get the thrill of owning his own sports team. In the modern day, this is a very exclusive honour. And that sports team could be one that not only encapsulates the pride of Pacific culture, but plays an exhilarating brand of rugby that is worthy of a Hollywood legend.
Secondly, he could get to make a huge difference to the lives of millions. He could bring joy and excitement to the lives of Pacifica people across the globe, and do so on a weekly basis. Johnson could be the driver for a modern day sporting fairytale. He could take a region, that for so long has had no voice and been given little chance to compete. He could turn all of that on its head and allow that region to succeed on a global stage.
Fiji, Samoa and Tonga
Currently, there is a clear lack of development pathways for the rugby teams of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. There is no genuine second tier for players to develop from promising youngsters/amateurs into fully committed internationals.
With the addition of a combined Super Rugby team; Fiji, Samoa and Tonga would have a world class second tier in which they could develop players.
This would likely pave the way for Samoa and Tonga to join Fiji in Australia's NRC, and within a short time all three nations would have a reputable three tier progression pathway to develop (and retain) world class players.
And the word "retain" is increasingly important. A European sporting regulation loophole allows for Pacific Islanders to play for European clubs and not be classified as "foreign." This has lead to heavy recruitment from the Pacific Islands. With this recruitment, many players are incentivised to "retire" from international rugby so that the club does not lose them during international windows.
This is a serious challenge for the national teams of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, as they have many talented players who are unfortunately scattered around the world and can rarely give 100% for their national teams.
With a Pacific Island Super Rugby franchise, the best Fijian, Samoan and Tongan players would be targeted for contracts to play closer to home. And these contracts would respect the international game and encourage these players to truly commit to their national teams.
Most of the leading nations in world rugby have embraced a centralised contracting method. Unfortunately this is very difficult for each of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to achieve. However, a Pacific Island franchise could achieve this for them. The commercial strength of the Johnson-owned franchise would allow it to contract leading players to the franchise, with their national teams "topping them up" for international and sevens duties.
SANZAAR is the governing body that administers Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship. It is made up of representatives from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina. Their objective in recent years has been to grow the Super Rugby competition to engage new audiences and sources of revenue.
The Next Stage of Expansion?
It's long been mooted that Super Rugby should expand to incorporate North America, primarily for commercial reasons. How SANZAAR intends to do this, is at this point a mystery.
Unfortunately the 2016 expansion to include the Sunwolves has not been an overwhelming success, most notably in terms of the team's competitiveness and domestic player base.
That will no doubt be in the back of many minds for any other expansion efforts, raising the questions:
will a new team be competitive?
will the new team have quality local players?
Unfortunately, US Rugby is a long way away from being able to produce a team that can mix it with the likes of the Crusaders, Waratahs and Lions.
Yet, as this campaign points out, SANZAAR could still crack the US, and do so without gambling on a Sunwolves-like team. They could also answer rugby fans' calls to include the Pacific Islands, all the while improving the quality of the competition.
This campaign believes that the opportunity exists for the greatest win-win in sports. SANZAAR should grant a licence to Dwayne Johnson (provided he was interested), for the establishment of a Pacific Island franchise.
Immediately, SANZAAR and Super Rugby would benefit from Johnson's immense reach (refer to the figures in Financials for more info). They would gain exposure in the US, and could stage matches there with a team that will eventually be capable of winning the overall competition.
It's Been Done Before
As groundbreaking as this concept sounds, it is not without precedent. In 2007 the LA Galaxy announced the signing of football megastar David Beckham. Part of the deal to get Beckham to the US and Major League Soccer, was an agreement that he would have the right to establish an expansion franchise. He has since done this with Inter Miami.
What the MLS understood, was that Beckham's involvement would be incredibly lucrative for the league. And it was exactly that. It was a huge success and a catalyst for the league's ongoing growth.
SANZAAR and Super Rugby should use that as a case study. They should attract a key brand that can help them expand, and in Dwayne Johnson there is the perfect brand who could also champion Pacific Island rugby.
Claim The Mantle of the World's Best Club Competition
If you asked ten rugby fans from around the world "what is the best club rugby competition?" you would likely get a range of answers. Some would say the Heineken Cup, because in France and England they pay the highest salaries. Some would say Super Rugby because of the quality of matches and cite that the World Player of the Year has come from that competition since 2012.
But one thing is for sure, at present no competition has truly claimed that title. And this is where SANZAAR needs to be proactive and ruthless.
At the last Rugby World Cup, all four semi final nations were Super Rugby nations. The #1 team in the world for the last nine years (New Zealand) only selects Super Rugby players. And to any unbiased rugby observer, the skill level and entertainment on show in Super Rugby exceeds that of any other league.
So now is the time for Super Rugby to claim the title as the World's Best Club Competition. With the recent technological changes to broadcasting platforms and markets, more and more providers will be seeking to offer audiences regular rugby. They want to offer their audiences, the World's Best Club Rugby competition.
And were SANZAAR to be associated with Dwayne Johnson and include a Pacific Island franchise, they would be well placed to claim that title internationally.
New Zealand Rugby is currently facing a predicament: their teams are incredibly successful and competitive, but their marketable audience is too small to compete financially with the European-based clubs and unions.
And there is no publicly disclosed plan for how they plan to address this; how they plan to introduce the All Blacks brand to new markets in a sustainable way.
Which is why a Dwayne Johnson-owned Pacific Island franchise would be a blessing for NZR. Johnson would open up the US market to Super Rugby and the wider sport, and as the biggest brand in rugby, the All Blacks would benefit.
There will be those in New Zealand who fear that the strength of the Pacific Islands would be a zero-sum-gain, and come at a cost to New Zealand rugby. That opinion is not only wrong, but incredibly short sighted.
That is because New Zealand Rugby's biggest risk is that Super Rugby stagnates, and South Africa eventually jumps ship to the European competitions. There are already two South African teams playing in the Pro 14, and with all those games played in convenient time zones for the Republic, a sceptic would argue that they already have a foot out the door.
And if South Africa goes, it leaves New Zealand in a competition with a very weak Japanese team, Australian sides that are losing their own domestic code wars, and an Argentinian team that has never truly achieved its potential. How long do you give Super Rugby under that scenario? And how long will New Zealand be able to retain talent and be the force they are at all levels?
Simply put, NZR needs Super Rugby to succeed. So a Dwayne Johnson-owned franchise is exactly what they need.
Rugby Australia is in a tougher position than their traditional rivals of New Zealand and South Africa. That's because whilst they are trying to compete internationally, domestically they are also fighting a code war against rugby league, Aussie rules, and football (soccer). At present, they are losing that war on all fronts.
Much like New Zealand Rugby, Rugby Australia needs Super Rugby to grow. They need it to captivate audiences in Australia. Which is exactly what a Dwayne Johnson-owned franchise would help achieve.
One thing that rugby union offers that rugby league and Aussie rules do not, is a truly international game. A game where the top talent is famous around the world. Of course rugby league is attempting to grow their international footprint with their World Cups, but they are a long way off the stature of rugby union. And here is where Rugby Australia needs to be ruthless.
Take Israel Folau as an example. When he played rugby league for the Broncos and Kangaroos, he was well known in Australia and parts of New Zealand. He then went to Aussie Rules and consolidated his fame in Australia. But it wasn't until he went across to rugby union that he became a global name. He is now recognisable in Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Italy, Japan and beyond.
Rugby Australia needs to hammer home that rugby union is a truly international sport, one with Olympic gold medal benefits. To any young players coming through, target their egos, appeal to them to be international stars, not just Australian stars.
And a Dwayne Johnson Pacific Island franchise would do exactly that. It would reiterate the global scale to young players, whilst also engaging a wealth of fans.
And to those who would argue that Pacific Island progress would come at the expense of Australian rugby, again, they need to look beyond that knee-jerk assumption. Currently the Pacifica community in Australia has been courted by rugby league. A Pacific Island franchise would help draw their attention back to rugby union, where they'd watch games on Australian tvs/devices, from Australian broadcasters and line the pockets of Rugby Australia. Their children would be more likely to play rugby union at Australian clubs and schools, and all of this could coincide with a much needed rebranding of rugby union that will engage Australians well beyond the traditional private schools.
In summary, Rugby Australia needs help fighting its domestic code war, and a Dwayne Johnson-owned Pacific Island franchise can assist in doing exactly that..
SA Rugby is currently dealing with their own challenges, which are both unique and incredibly sensitive in nature. They are implementing a transformation policy aimed at expanding the game to all corners of the Republic and engaging the entire population of 55 million.
Given their objective to brand rugby as a sport for all races and creeds, the addition of a Pacific Island franchise would go a long way to reaffirming this.
Another challenge for SA Rugby is that, like the Pacific Islands, South African players can play rugby in the EU without being classified as foreign. This is based on a sporting loophole known as the Kolpak Ruling, and it has incentivised European clubs to recruit South Africa's top talent away from South Africa. As a result, their Super Rugby franchises (with the exception of the Lions) have severely lacked competitiveness in recent seasons.
In summary, a Dwayne Johnson-owned Pacific Island franchise would not only support SA Rugby's social objective of branding rugby as a sport for all races and creeds, it would also help to grow Super Rugby and retain South African talent at clubs in the Republic.
World Rugby has for many years come under public pressure to provide greater assistance to Pacific Island rugby. And the concept proposed on this site is a dream solution to achieve exactly that.
With a Dwayne Johnson-owned Pacific Island franchise, not only would World Rugby see genuine development in the Pacific, but (as discussed in Governance) they would also see the creation of a transparent and commercially savvy governance platform in the region.
World Rugby would also greatly benefit from the sport's association with Dwayne Johnson. His stature and reach would aid in growing rugby's marketable audience internationally, all of which would improve the commercial performance of World Rugby's different events.