Free-to-air television on the cards for IPRC

by Sam Phillips

The architects behind the Indo-Pacific Rugby Championship are confident of getting the competition on free-to-air television in Australia, broadening the reach of the game.

The absence of Super Rugby on FTA television has long been a gripe of many devout rugby fans, who often point to that as part of the reason the popularity gap is widening between rugby and the other major football codes in this country.

But IPRC chief strategist and legal director Eugenie Buckley said there had already been interests from several broadcasters, including free-to-air stations.

"With the eyeballs that the Indo-Pacific can bring, we are confident of getting some really good commercial return," Buckley said.

"We will be centralising broadcast, key merchandise, marketing, mainly to offset administration costs but also to do marketing and all the rest of it.

"We have actually been approached by a number of broadcasters and we are looking to sell those broadcast rights on a platform neutral basis.Forrest's new competition is turning plenty of heads. Photo: Walmsley"We can't obviously reveal the names of those broadcasters in commercial confidence."

When asked whether the goal of broadcasting the competition on free-to-air television was within reach, Buckley had a short and sharp response.

"Absolutely," she said.

Eyebrows were raised yesterday when Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest said the competition would go dollar for dollar with the level of money on offer in Europe and Japan.

Buckley explained Forrest's comments in more depth, with each IPRC contract slated to cover four months per year.

"When he (Twiggy) says toe-to-toe he is talking about the quantum of money and salaries for the players that are earned will be absolute proportionate to what is earned in those top competitions throughout Europe and Japan," she said.

"We want our players for those four months - that sacrosanct period - after that they can play wherever they like."Would Digby Ioane have left Australia if the IPRC was around? Photo: Getty ImagesWhere the IPRC will aid Australian rugby is the ability to match the amount of money the likes of Liam Gill, Digby Ioane and Matt Toomua are earning overseas.

If Forrest forks out the cash to match what these players earn in four months in Europe or Japan, the Super Rugby clubs and the ARU will only have to come up with two thirds of their annual salary to get back on a level playing field.

"I think one of the great bi-products of this concept is that through this contracting period we can attract that talent back and then they can get back into Super Rugby in that repatriation sense," Buckley said.

"We will be looking at retaining our best players in our region for longer and looking at repatriating players that are overseas.

"There are about 130 that are overseas and we understand that at least half of those are Super Rugby standard so we've got an existing pool."

The competition will run from August through to October, with players, at this stage, eligible to play for the Wallabies while being contracted with the IPRC.

The NRC looks as though it will suffer, though executive director Stu Taggart said the competitions were on a different level to one another.

"Our position is that these competitions co-exist," Taggart said.

"We see the IPRC as a Tier 2 competition, Super Rugby standard, supporting the elite pathways, the NRC retains its status as a Tier 3 in the Australian elite rugby pathway."

Where things will get particularly tricky is the balance of talent, as a team in China or Sri Lanka will obviously need plenty of propping up, given the shallow local talent pool in those countries.

"We will work with each of our markets on a market by market basis," Buckley said.

"What we are developing is a centralised elite talent pool and then we need to work with the locals so the teams can be supplemented by local talent.

"That talent will be distributed to teams that may need to bolster their ranks."

Those talent pools will also be bolstered by a marquee player, Buckley hinting there are already two "very high profile" players eager to get on board.