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HDPA: The financial and culture challenges facing new NZR CEO

Heather du Plessis-Allan,
Publish Date
Monday, 9 September 2019, 4:07PM

On the face of it, it looks like New Zealand Rugby has made a pretty good call today with the appointment of its new CEO.

Mark Robinson’s been confirmed as the guy for the job. If you recognise that name, it’s because he played nine tests for the All Blacks between 2000 and 2002, then went on to be CEO of the Taranaki rugby union from 2007 to 2012.

Why is he a good appointment?

Well, the guy knows the business, he’s been on the board for the last six years, so he’s seen Steve Tew running the place. He knows the direction of travel, and it’s been a good direction under Tew.

Which means, he’s probably well placed to continue that work. He’s a smart guy, he’s got an honours degree in politics and philosophy from Cambridge. He’s run a rugby union before, albeit a much smaller one in Taranaki.

Still, he’s got his work cut out for him. The NZRU, like many rugby unions around the world, needs to start making serious money. It posted a $1.9 million loss last year. It’s probably going to post a loss this year, and unless something changes, it’ll be the same story for 2020.

He needs to lift participation rates. Grassroots rugby is still struggling, clubs are feeling ignored by the bosses who seem to give all the attention to the All Blacks. Kids are dropping out of the sport. Parents are worried about it being too rough. He needs to get us watching again.

The Super Rugby competition is too long, and therefore too boring. Who even watches NPC nowadays?

Lemme ask you this: who has the Ranfurly Shield? If you don’t know, and I bet most of us don’t. Point made. Rugby is losing its audience.

He might also have to deal with that nebulous thing people always talk about: culture. One of the few things you could criticise Tew for was presiding over a culture that wasn’t great. There were allegations the NZRU tolerated heavy drinking, degrading attitudes towards women, and protected badly-behaved players.

So there’s a big job ahead. But there’s also plenty to look forward to.

There’s a Rugby World Cup to win, a new coach to appoint, a broadfcast deal to sign, and ,if that goes well, and if it’s true that Sky’s offer for the rights is now at $400 million - an estimated $50 million more than previously though - then it could be the financial help the union needs. 

And with the CV he has, I think Mark Robinson could also be something good for the game.

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