Rugby Australia chairman Cameron Clyne says a $3.8 million 2017 loss would be a 'one-off' after one of the most tumultuous years in the code, pointing to on-field results as the biggest influence on finance in 2018.
Though the business overall recorded a $17.8 million surplus, that was boosted by $21.6 million worth of government funding, for the code’s new headquarters in Moore Park, leaving the final number at a $3.8 million deficit, down from a $3.7 million surplus in 2016.
Low Test attendance, in a very low-profile June Series against Fiji. Scotland and Italy, hurt the final numbers, along with legal costs incurred in the battle with the Western Force.
As well as Rugby AU’s costs, the national body wrote off legal fees owed by Rugby WA, after winning a Supreme Court case about the team’s axing.
Clyne said all those factors combined uniquely to impact the game's financial return.
"You certainly hope the Super Rugby restructure is a one-off event and there are one-off costs associated with that and they have to be taken into account," he said.
"They won't occur next year and the year after, which gives us the money we were hoping to save to re-invest in the game. The finances are impacted by this.
"But we are forecasting a profit this year and hopefully we do see strong fan engagement around the Ireland series and leading into the Rugby Championship, we should be able to deliver a profit this year."
In the organisation’s annual report, Rugby AU pointed to growth in Indigenous participation, up by 134 per cent with the introduction of a new schools program, Deadly 7s, and women’s innovation as key positives in the past year.
Looking ahead to 2018, Rugby AU has plans to change its approach to women’s rugby, as it vies to host the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup, hoping to establish a women’s high performance leadership program.
These moves come off the back of a year where Rugby AU says women’s club XVs participation grew by 53 per cent, while female club Sevens participation rose 47 per cent.
A renewed focus on grassroots rugby, heralded by a new marketing campaign released last week, called ‘#PartofMore’, is another priority for the organisation in 2018.
Clyne said ultimately, though, the best way to turn things around in 2018, was on-field results, as the game faces a blow to its perception after a controversial Instagram comment from one of the game's biggest stars, Israel Folau.
"Certainly you want positive perceptions around the game, but one of the big drivers that gets fans through the gate is how teams perform on the field," he said.
"Certainly, some of them look to issues around administration and other things but the reality is the majority of fans say, 'How is the team going on the field?' and that's a big driver of them deciding to attend."
Clyne pointed to the initiatives like the inception of the Uni 7s and Super W competitions as some of the big improvements of the year, with a move to put more investment into developing women off the field.
"We need more women coaches, more women on boards at every level of the game, we need more women in adminsitration roles and other roles, so we're investing in not just developing the game for participants but developing leadership for women to be more involved in the game,"he said.
The Rugby AU board also added two new faces at its meeting, with Australian Rugby Foundation chairman John Wilson and Gordon president Hayden Rorke replacing Liz Broderick and Geoff Stooke, while former Wallabies flanker Phil Waugh is likely to repace John Eales in the second half of 2018, with Eales coming towards the end of his maximum nine-year team.
"Having someone like Hayden who's been involved as a president of a club and a club captain, we're just trying to bring that voice more into the administration of rugby in Australia," Clyne said.