Rugby Australia has made the astonishing admission that it seriously considered returning the sport to amateur status when deciding how to combat the dire financial consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Thursday, Rugby Australia announced a $A27.1 million ($NZ29.1m) loss in 2020, with officials pointing the finger at "significant disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic" in a statement.
Chairman Hamish McLennan said Rugby Australia was "shaken to its core" by the pandemic, which was responsible for a staggering $A45.7 million reduction in revenue during the 2020 calendar year.
"Australian Rugby has been through some challenging years recently, but nothing could have prepared us for 2020," McLennan said.
Indeed, the need to cut costs became so dire that McLennan admitted the option to become an amateur sport - last seen in Australia in 1995 - was definitely on the cards.
"We were very nervous," McLennan told AAP. "When I came on board in June/July, had we not been able to get cost out of the business and get some certainty into some of our revenue numbers, we openly talked about the game potentially becoming amateur.
"It was a real possibility. It wasn't just idle talk. But we got through it and there is light at the end of the tunnel. We knew it was going to be brutal, so it's not really a surprise. I'm proud of the fact that the team here has kept the game alive and professional."
Now, McLennan says the organisation has its eyes firmly set on the kind of external investment that New Zealand Rugby (NZR) is currently attempting to get across the line.
On Thursday, representatives from Aotearoa's provincial unions voted unanimously in favour of selling a 12.5 per cent stake in NZR's commercial rights to US technology investment giants Silver Lake for $387.5 million. The deal's final hurdle is gaining the collective approval of players via the New Zealand Players' Association.
McLennan says there is no doubt Rugby Australia has a similar deal in mind.
"We have absolute alignment," he told AAP. "I can't see us giving more than 15 per cent away. It will be between 10 to 15 per cent. Probably 12.5 per cent.
"In a perfect world you wouldn't have to do it. There is an extra stakeholder we will have to deal with, but I don't fear it. The more diverse range of skill sets we get around the table is a good thing. Rugby deserves to make a lot of money which we can reinvest back into the community game."
Despite the code's financial hardships, McLennan insists there were positives to be taken from 2020, pointing to the reinstatement of the Western Force to the Super League, Rugby Australia's broadcast deal with Nine and Stan and a retention of $A15.4 million in sponsorship.
"I'm very excited about what the future has in store for our game in this country, as is everyone that I speak to on the street. The reset button was pressed and we're well on our way to reaping those rewards," he said.
"The work is not yet done though. We have some incredibly important decisions to make in the near future which will ensure Australian Rugby returns to its lofty heights."
NZR posted a similarly large loss on Thursday. The organisation's $34.6 million loss accounted for a 26 per cent decline in revenue, compared to RA's 41 per cent.
- with News.com.au