The rumour mill might be right and perhaps the Western Force are going to be chopped from next year's Super Rugby competition. It's not a bad guess.

The Force are being bankrolled mostly by the Australian Rugby Union and partly by the proceeds of a bit of a whip round earlier in the year that saw players and locals get down the back of their couches and see what loose change they could find.

The commodity boom has gone bust so Western Australia is no longer awash with corporate dollars for sponsorship and, not insignificantly, the Force have been just a little bit awful since their inception. If Australia is going to only have four teams in next year's competition, then the Force probably are the most vulnerable.

But while that's true and screams out as the right decision for the ARU to make, it is still guesswork whether this is actually what ends up happening.


What everything hinges on is, unsurprisingly, money and specifically preserving the value of the current broadcast deal. All Sanzaar member unions have agreed that any change they implement to next year's competition can't result in a reduction of broadcast income.

It is their view that a reduction of teams from 18 to 15 doesn't come with a reduction of content. The competition will still span the same time period and if anything, the reduction of teams - two being cut in Africa and one from Australia - will make more games of a more compelling nature than they currently are.

It is understood that New Zealand has already cleared the proposed changes with Sky and that the South Africans are not anticipating problems with their broadcast partner. But the position in Australia is not so clear.

Their broadcast partner, Fox, may not be so willing to accept the changes without a renegotiation on price. Taking less money is not an option for the ARU as it will be a regressive move that leaves them worse off than where they currently are.

Whatever money they will save by axing the Force can't be sucked up by a reduction in overall broadcast income. The equation of less teams and less money doesn't appeal.

But it's a scenario that will be tough to avoid as the Australian sports broadcast market is different: it is cut-throat competitive given the proliferation of choice in respect to football codes.

Fox don't need rugby to make a crust the way Sky do and while there is mounting speculation an announcement about the future of Super Rugby will be made early next week, it will only be happening if the broadcast situation in Australia has been resolved, which according to a statement releases by the ARU, it hasn't so far been.

"As announced by Sanzaar following the Sanzaar board meeting in London earlier this month, the four member nations have undertaken a period of stakeholder consultation to work towards an agreed outcome on the competition format for the 2018 season. This stakeholder consultation, which has included consultation with broadcast partners in each territory, is ongoing. At this point, there has been no determination on the future competition format or the teams involved in the competition.

"We also wish to confirm for the public record that no decision has been taken on the removal of one of Australia's Super Rugby teams. ARU, as a joint venture partner of Sanzaar, is working towards a final resolution in the shortest timeframe possible and will inform rugby fans as soon as an outcome is reached."