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LONDON: The gold onesies have flown off the shelves, Instagram following has exploded ten-fold and the sales boffins are taking calls, not making them, for the first time in a decade.
The Wallabies are winning and is taking notice. Despite the sun shining on the forgotten code of n sport, the vagaries of international rugby mean a few hundred thousand dollars in sponsors’ bonuses and the proceeds from those polyester jumpsuits is all the ARU will bank from a potential World Cup win on Saturday.
“n rugby, really in the last 10 years, has gone through some challenging times,” ARU general manager Rob Clarke said.
“There have been some highlights along the way, but the last decade proved to be pretty challenging. Hopefully, on the back of where we are now, how well the team is performing, and given the level of general interest that is back in the game, I’d like to think we’d be able to leverage that in the near future.”
Win or lose at Twickenham on Saturday, there is money to be made in rugby again. Just not right now. The Wallabies may be red hot but the fact is they will not play another Test until England arrive to play a first ever three-Test series in next June.
That’s a long time to wait to parlay a winning aura into ticket sales, particularly for a business that announced a $6.3 million loss last year.
The SANZAR nations are still in the midst of finalising the new broadcast deal and with no prizemoney on offer for the World Cup winner, the ARU will be shelling out instead of collecting.
Fairfax Media reported on Sunday that the ARU bet $300,000 on a Wallabies World Cup win to cover a $3.1 million bill for player win bonuses.
Clarke confirmed the only concrete dollar figure the ARU could bank on was a “significant six-figure sum” in the form of bonus payments from a handful of the union’s commercial partners.
A number of contracts with sponsors had incentives built in that were triggered when the Wallabies made the quarter-finals.
A run on Wallabies merchandise will help. The ARU’s online store sold out of jerseys and onesies this week, but they won’t be adding any extra zeros to the bottom line.
The flow-on effects will take plenty of time but there are positive signs on a few fronts. Ticket sales for the sevens world series tournament at Allianz Stadium in Sydney this summer spiked these past few weeks, with about 20,000 tickets sold on both days.
Likewise, administrators are expecting to sell out the Moore Park facility for the England Test next year, along with AAMI Park and, it is hoped, Suncorp Stadium.
The only rugby on offer between the sevens and the June Test series will be the enlarged Super Rugby competition, featuring a team from Argentina for the first time.
But it may be too much to expect that newfound interest in the Wallabies will translate into membership growth in the provinces.
“Based on my experience in Brumbies and Rebels days [Clarke was chief executive at both], there is no doubt the performance of the Wallabies at international level has a positive washover into your business at Super Rugby level,” he said.
“People are talking about it, they’re interested in the game, your corporates are wanting to buy suites at games of rugby, there is definitely a positive correlation.
“That said, it is up to each of the Super Rugby franchises to be able to leverage the national success and work it to their own local advantage. But for the first time in a long time we are working hand in glove with the Super clubs and their marketing teams to make sure we can leverage off each other and learn from each other.”
Importantly for Clarke, who runs the commercial and marketing arms of the ARU, his phone is ringing again, which is timely given that the organisation failed to lock in a naming rights sponsor for the admittedly shortened Rugby Championship this year.
“We are currently in discussions with a couple of organisations in the tyre category and we’re also currently in discussions with a couple in the insurance category,” he said.
“Those have been generated over the last two months, and you’d like to think it’s a result of what the team has been building towards. They haven’t concluded as yet but I am confident they will.”
The 2016 Olympics also looks set to provide a tangible boost, with a high-profile cereal company sniffing around the women’s sevens team.
But it is all a long way in the future, no matter who takes home the Webb Ellis Cup early next week.
As soon as the dust settles from the final, attention will turn to the SANZAR broadcast deal, widely tipped to deliver the ARU an extra $40 million a year from next year but still no closer to fruition.
Clarke said he was confident the ARU would be able to marry on-field success with commercial return.
“That’s our job, to make sure, when the team is performing, we can capitalise on it for the game at large. That will be our singular focus.”