Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Money a major driver in keeping NZ rugby No 1

The All Blacks perform the haka ahead of a Bledisloe Cup test. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The All Blacks perform the haka ahead of a Bledisloe Cup test. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Money can't be given all the credit for being the driving force behind New Zealand rugby's current golden period, but it has certainly helped. A lot.

New Zealand Rugby banked a record $161 million last year and used the influx to pump cash into the pockets of elite players, fund the provincial game, drive junior registrations and do more for women's rugby.

And this was on the back of a number of good years where the picture had been largely similar and while no one should believe this will last forever, the game here both on and off the field is in excellent shape.

Whatever difficulties NZR has incurred around issues of inclusion, diversity and codes of behaviour, in the business of making money, they have shown they know what they're doing. In that, they are world class.

The 21 per cent increase in revenue they enjoyed last year was mostly down to a massive leap in broadcast income. Super Rugby may be falling apart but the broadcasters are committed to paying top dollar for it and the Rugby Championship.

But NZR hasn't put all its financial eggs in one basket. While broadcast revenue will remain the bulk provider of income in coming years, the national body can look forward with some confidence.

AIG were re-signed as a major sponsor late last year and the new deal, which will begin in 2018, is thought to be about double the existing agreement and will be worth around $15 million a year.

This year they will also see an extra estimated $25 million pour into the coffers as a result of hosting the British and Irish Lions and will earn around $3 million from playing the Barbarians at Twickenham in November.

Compare the scenario in New Zealand with what is happening in Australia and the importance of money becomes clear.

Australian rugby is just about bust - probably would have been but for the Lions tour they hosted in 2013 - and that can't be dismissed as one of the reasons for their playing demise.

In New Zealand, on the other hand, the money keeps flowing in and has been wisely invested in coaching resources, sport science and provincial unions.

It feels now that a virtuous cycle is in motion where the investment made in the right areas has allowed New Zealand teams to succeed on all stages and as a result attract more investment.

The national body is often criticised for neglecting the grassroots, of not having an eye to sustainability, but it's a hard argument to make stick when they upped the funding to provinces last year by $11 million.

A further $3.8 million was invested in the five Super Rugby teams and the net outcome of all this is that players want to stay in New Zealand.

With a few exceptions, NZR has been able to retain everyone it wanted and while the ability to offer improved payment has helped, so too has the quality of coaching and sense of being well looked after.

- NZ Herald

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