25 September 2023

Here we go again with rumours and speculation about the future of the Brumbies

| Tim Gavel
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supporters and fans

Fans are in limbo again as the future of the Brumbies in Canberra is in the hands of Rugby Australia. Photo: Brumbies Rugby.

Here we go again with rumours and speculation about the future of the Brumbies.

It’s tough being a rugby supporter in Canberra – home to the most successful Australian Super Rugby franchise.

As supporters, we are called upon to emotionally and financially commit ourselves to the team, but it would appear the commitment, at times, is a one-way street.

Speculation about the Brumbies’ future in Canberra has been a recurring theme a few times in the history of the club, and it would appear it is back again.

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Rugby Australia’s plans for centralisation have resurrected speculation once again amidst reports the governing body is seeking to take control of the Brumbies by relinquishing intellectual property rights. In exchange, Rugby Australia would expunge the Brumbies of its debt.

The Brumbies would effectively become an extension of Rugby Australia, with little control in Canberra itself.

Brumbies 2004

Steve Larkham with the Brumbies after winning the Super Rugby title in 2004 at Canberra Stadium. Photo: Brumbies.rugby.

The Brumbies and the ACT Government have been backed into a corner.

The ACT Government, understandably, has indicated an unwillingness to commit to a new stadium, whether it be a rebuild on the existing footprint or elsewhere, if there is no firm commitment from Rugby Australia to guarantee long-term tenure of the Brumbies in Canberra.

We have, of course, been here before.

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In the golden years in the late 1990s to the early 2000s, the Brumbies were a juggernaut with packed grandstands. The game was at its absolute zenith.

Assisted by the fallout from rugby league’s Super League war, the Brumbies were the talk of the town.

As the crowds dropped off speculation rose about the Brumbies being relocated to Melbourne.

At one stage, the rumour was so strong we were expecting an announcement any hour that the club would be moving out of Canberra.

There were concerns about the size of Canberra’s corporate sponsorship base, which has traditionally been smaller than centres such as Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

It took the governing body an eternity to quash speculation linking the team with relocation.

In 2017, there was another round of speculation with rumours the Brumbies would be axed in a revamped Super Rugby competition.

The ACT has returned to Brumbies Rugby name. Photo: ACT Brumbies.

The Brumbies brand is recognised globally as the most successful Australian Super Rugby franchise. Photo: ACT Brumbies.

I well remember the rallying call by then CEO Michael Thomson, coach Steve Larkham and co-captain Sam Carter ahead of the game against the Highlanders at Canberra Stadium.

Fans were called upon to support the team and show what the Brumbies meant to the city.

History shows the Brumbies avoided the cull six years ago.

We have returned to that point again with little coming out of Rugby Australia quelling any speculation. If anything, the fear among the Canberra rugby community has been amplified by talk of Rugby Australia’s centralised model.

Remarkably, despite the lack of clarity in the boardroom, the team has continued to perform on the park.

Once again, we are waiting for the governing body to put this one to bed. The longer it goes on, the more damage is imposed on a code that can ill afford further turmoil.

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John Schwazer5:43 pm 25 Sep 23

I’ve never liked the Brumbies as I see them as just another Canberra fashion accessory helping Canberrans to convince themselves they’re a cut above. As just one tiny example on this, note the number of Brumbies supporter’s hats, jerseys, number plates etc. you see around town – which is a lot – and compare that to the small number of people who actually go to matches, even when the brumbies are doing well. It just doesn’t speak of heartfelt support, and the only other explanation for this is that it’s posing – which is what really comes from the heart of a lot Canberra.

Not The Mama11:53 pm 25 Sep 23

Bums on seats at the stadium is not a sign of lack of support from fans. All the codes are struggling to get crowds in to matches at the moment – and its little wonder.

COVID restrictions have taught us that movies and sport can be just as enjoyable at home in front of a big TV

The management of all the codes have sold rights to separate streaming companies like Fox, Stan etc., they can’t do that and cry foul when fans don’t turn up to games as well.

After being forced to buy expensive subscriptions and A/V gear are fans and their families then meant to fork out $50 or more per person to see a match at the stadium with poor visibility and in freezing conditions – and then another $100 or so on cold pies and warm beer when they could be inviting their mates over and watch the games on large screen TVs with good food better drink and the best view of the game?

If you want fans to turn up to games then you need to make it more attractive to do so – The Union is reaping what it sows. If the fans (customer!) are treated with contempt then they’ll walk away.

The Brumbies situation is only a symptom of a much greater malaise. Rugby Union was an amateur game that has never quite made it to professional status. Rugby at the Super Rugby level is in terminal decline. Apart from the game being unwatchable due to serial penalties and interminable penalty shots at goal. There are too many scrum resets and an institutionalised deterrent to individual play in the backs with isolation on a break through resulting in a turnover for not releasing. The private school nurseries of Rugby have undergone massive change with fewer built-for-rugby country boys and more Indian and South-East Asian students that aren’t all that interested in contact sports. The stop gap has been islanders and Polynesians but the allure of big pay days in NRL and/or playing for their Pacific Island homelands (even if they are born here) have made recruitment and retention a nightmare. Might be time to revert to the Club Rugby and NSW v Queensland days of old.

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