Legend has it that former British Prime Minister John Major met his Russian equivalent, Boris Yeltsin, in the early 1990s as the former Soviet Union was breaking up and its assets being stolen by the oligarchs.

Major inquired how things were in Russia through such upheaval and turmoil. "Good," replied Yeltsin. "Come on Boris," pleaded Major, "Give us more than that how are things really?"

"Not good," was Yeltsin's more fulsome reply and there they left things.

This anecdote could easily be applied to the state of Sothern Hemisphere rugby.


The PR machinery at Sanzaar is always in fifth gear, citing record TV audiences in a record number of countries as a result of having stuck the Super Rugby flag in Asia and South America.

Both national rugby unions in New Zealand and Australia are currently banking what was a 100 per cent increase in broadcast revenue in 2016. So things do appear to be good.

But that's not the real story at all, because while the broadcast revenue almost doubled in 2016, there were significant costs that came with it.

The competition expanded to 18 teams and more teams means more travel and more expense.

Not only that, but revenue from ticket sales in Super Rugby has been dwindling alarmingly fast and now it would seem that ticket sales for tests are also collapsing in Australia.

There were just 27,000 people at Suncorp watching the Wallabies scrape past the Boks.

However much of an eye-sore it was watching two nervous, tense teams come up short on the basic skills, it was nothing compared with seeing the banks of empty seats in

A barely half-full Suncorp told the real story of Southern Hemisphere rugby at the moment. The endless meddling with the format of Super Rugby has caused considerable damage.


Significant numbers of fans in all territories have obviously lost interest in rugby. The figures suggest that some have just lost interest in actually going to the games and are instead watching on TV, but in Australia at least, plenty have just given up with rugby full stop.

And the impact of the meddling has been to create a vicious cycle of lack of interest leading to declining revenue leading to reduced ability leading to lack of interest.

That Australia is in a mess isn't news as such but those empty seats in Brisbane suggest things are much worse than anyone realised.

 Izack Rodda of the Wallabies is congratulated by Wallabies coach Michael Cheika. Photo / Getty Images.
Izack Rodda of the Wallabies is congratulated by Wallabies coach Michael Cheika. Photo / Getty Images.

There are other big clues that things are not good. New Zealand isn't suffering from a decline in audience, or not anywhere to the same extent at least.

TV audiences for the dominant All Blacks are at record levels and they have sold out for each home test of 2018 so far.

But as buoyant as they are as a consumable brand, the economics aren't stacking up at the moment and they are running at an operating loss of about $5 million-$7 million a year.

The problem for New Zealand is it can't fix the problem as it is essentially the victim.

With a comparatively tiny population it can't do more than it does. The onus sits with Australia and South Africa to get their respective houses more in order and re-engage their populations by giving them a reason to return to rugby.

The endless narrative of All Blacks' success – as has been the case since 2012 – has been lapped up in New Zealand but nowhere else.

The plot needs more suspense. It needs to be more of a tense thriller than obvious rom-com.

And to that end, the Boks have to stop the rot this weekend in Wellington not necessarily by winning the test, but at least providing 80 minutes of commitment to the cause.

They have to play some rugby – make it look like there was a contest and expose some frailties about the All Blacks.

The truth that Sanzaar maybe doesn't want to acknowledge is that fans in South Africa and Australia have stopped believing the All Blacks are beatable.

That needs to be rediscovered and only then will those empty seats start to fill and only then will the money begin to flow and the economic gloom can lift.