League: Profit boosts desire to grow

By Michael Brown

The semifinals contributed greatly to the World Cup's bottom line. Photo / Getty Images
The semifinals contributed greatly to the World Cup's bottom line. Photo / Getty Images

The World Cup is on track to be more profitable than 2008's and there are plans to expand the Four Nations in the hope of growing the game internationally.

Money alone doesn't guarantee development but it provides opportunities and the Rugby League International Federation have plans to take advantage.

They banked A$5.5 million in 2008, a considerable turnaround from the 2000 tournament which lost money, and RLIF chairman Scott Carter said they are on track to exceed those profits this time.

"I'm expecting conservatively at this stage between A$5 million and A$6 million," said Carter. "It might go a bit higher because [the double header at] Wembley performed really well."

That first semifinal, won 20-18 by the Kiwis over England, was a terrific advert for the World Cup. It was exciting, dramatic and explosive, and was played in front of a 67,500-strong crowd. The second semifinal, however, illustrated the international game's shortcomings when Australia trounced Fiji 64-0.

This World Cup has been acknowledged as one of the best but the reality is only one of three teams was ever going to win. The gap between Australia, New Zealand and England and the rest is enormous and doesn't look like closing any time soon.

It would benefit from more competitive fixtures at the top end but there was plenty to get excited about.

Scotland and the United States surprised most by winning through to the quarter-finals and Italy were also competitive in their first World Cup. But it's difficult to forecast when an emerging nation might topple one of the Big Three.

"I hope so," Carter says. "I think we will see it in our lifetime."

What gives Carter some hope is the fact Italy beat England in a warm-up and the US tipped over Wales.

"Yes, people can pull apart those victories because they were warm-up games but the reality is they happened. It wouldn't have been in the plans for England and Wales to lose those games."

The difficulty is, however, Italy don't know when they will play another international. Nor do the US. . They are fledgling nations with small infrastructures and many played at the World Cup for free. They would benefit from more frequent internationals but it costs money and need to fit into a congested calendar.

There are windows for internationals; New Zealand's programme is nearly locked in for the next World Cup cycle and is closely aligned to Australia's and England's.

It's why the federation hopes to expand the Four Nations, which next year will feature Australia, New Zealand and England. The fourth country is either Fiji or Samoa.

Discussions are at an early stage but one idea has been to expand the tournament to two groups of three.

"The Four Nations is going to be re-thought," Carter says.

"We think it has worked on many fronts and is an improvement on the Tri Nations but it's not really developing the game.

"There have been various ideas and two pools of three is one of them, which would mean a slightly shorter tournament. It's a matter of balancing strategic development with commercial realities because everyone knows it takes money to make money. If you don't have the coin, someone else will have to pay the bill. But we are very focused on lifting the game, and we will."

One potential stumbling block for an expanded Four Nations is the fact it's a partnership owned by Australia, New Zealand and England, not the RLIF.

NZRL chief executive Phil Holden said that they supported the concept of an expanded competition.

"It represents an opportunity to do more in that space," said Holden. "We recognise that to really push the game on internationally, we have got to be looking at how we do that and what teams are involved. I think there's a willingness to make it work because we know it's in everyone's best interests."

Some of the profits from this World Cup will be spent on human resources - a chief executive will be appointed to help run the RLIF - but most will be distributed to each of the 17 member nations in grants.

A significant proportion of the profits from the 2008 tournament was invested in France and Papua New Guinea in the hope of getting them back to the level where they were competitive with the Big Three.

The World Cup has had its critics. It has been labelled a joke and waste of time by some who think a competition involving any more than four teams is too many, but they were mostly made by people who didn't attend the tournament.

The fact all the best players were in the UK would suggest they don't agree and the good crowds indicate there's an appetite for international league.

Seven of the 28 games sold out, including this morning's final at Old Trafford, which was the biggest crowd ever for a rugby league test, and 383,995 spectators attended games overall. That's an average of 13,714 for each game.

Television audiences have also been strong. England's game against Fiji peaked at 2.4 million viewers on the BBC, which was more than four times the audience for England's rugby international against Argentina on the same afternoon, and England's semifinal against the Kiwis peaked at 2.83 million viewers in the UK.

"I simply don't subscribe to calls the tournament is a waste of time and tests between nations other than the top three aren't appealing - because the stats prove otherwise," Carter said. "When you get Italy beating England and the US beating Wales in international games, how can you say it's not worth it? I think the tournament has been hugely positive."

- Herald on Sunday

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