Rugby Australia to lock away $100m ‘future fund’ from World Cup windfall

Rugby Australia are planning to create a “future fund” of up to $100 million from the profits of the 2027 Rugby World Cup, which they would lock away, invest and use to fund the growth of rugby in the country.

The strategy was revealed by Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan after World Rugby rubber-stamped Australia as the host of the 2027 Rugby World Cup and the 2029 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

World Rugby members voted in Dublin to support an unprecedented five-tournament schedule, in which England (2025), Australia (2027 and 2029) and the USA (2031 and 2033) will host the next five World Cups, all under a new joint venture model with the game’s governing body.

The jockeying between states to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup finals will now begin in earnest, with the MCG, Optus Stadium in Perth and Accor Stadium in Sydney the three candidates to stage the decider. World Rugby will make the final call, likely by the end of this year.

Bid chief Phil Kearns said the World Cups would end the “negativity” around Australian rugby but the huge financial impact will be the biggest game-changer for a code that went perilously close to going under during the pandemic.

While the profit-sharing arrangement between World Rugby and Rugby Australia is yet to be finalised, McLennan said there was a hope the game could yield a windfall of up to $100 million.

Rugby fans celebrate the World Cup announcements in Adelaide, including Premier Peter Malinauskas.Credit:Getty

But after a $45 million profit from the 2003 Rugby World Cup evaporated quickly, former chief executive John O’Neill called for the 2027 money to be put into an independently-run foundation, so it can’t be squandered.

McLennan told the Herald that aligns with Rugby Australia’s vision.

“If we can put $80-$100 million away into an endowment fund, a rugby future fund I will call it, then that can be invested in women’s rugby, grassroots and the men’s game at all levels. It will be that necessary protection,” McLennan said.

“We will put a separate governance structure around that, which is still to be determined. We have to get the money in. We will have a separate governance structure with experts overseeing it and reporting into the RA board.

Taniela Tupou signs some autographs at a World Cup event in Brisbane.Credit:Getty

“Because we were on the trapeze without a net last year and there was just nothing in the cupboard. So if we can have that money locked away and investible, then I think we will be in great shape come 2027.”

Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos said: “We feel quite passionately about making sure it is a whole lot of money that is locked away. And delivers an annuity or an annual revenue that we can re-invest into the game, as opposed to just sucking out capital all the time.”

After cutting costs dramatically during COVID, Rugby Australia expect to turn a $27m loss in 2020 into a profit this year and McLennan believes the 2025 Lions tour and the dual Rugby World Cups will now help significantly lift revenue in media rights, game day and commercial sponsorships. A private equity sale is also still on the cards.

The two Rugby World Cups. The Women’s World Cup trophy (left) and the William Webb Ellis Cup.

World Rugby funds the global game with money made at World Cups and, under a new joint venture hosting model where World Rugby will have the majority of seats on an organising board, ‘maximising revenue’ will be an oft-heard term over the next five years. And it will play a huge role in where the 2027 Rugby World Cup final will be played, too.

Many purists believe Accor Stadium should be favourite given it is the only rectangular venue of the bidding trio but Marinos described the venue shape as “semantics”.

World Rugby will be more swayed by the size of a deal it can cut with the NSW, Victorian or WA government, and the capacity to run a festival around the final venue. The structure introduced in 2003, where the two semis and final are played in the same city, is likely to be scrapped.

“I think it is going to be a very tough decision for World Rugby,” Marinos said.

“Sydney and Melbourne and Perth are the three that are going to be in focus. They have the capacity and they have the stadium infrastructure to deliver that. All three states and all three tourism authorities have put through some really compelling value propositions to World Rugby, when they were here. It is going to be an interesting conversation for them and ultimately an interesting decision for them to land on.

Perth’s Optus Stadium hosted a 2019 Bledisloe Cup Testand is in the running to pinch the 2027 Rugby World Cup final.Credit:AP

“It is really going to come down to, from a purists’ point of view, whether you go with a round or an oval stadium, and what are the pros and cons of that. And I think for a tournament of that magnitude, if you are creating the right atmosphere and have the right product on the field, I don’t think those semantics are as relevant.

“We have been quite clear this World Cup has to be a celebration of Australia, not just certain states.”

NSW has bid for 15 matches but the government is being urged to fight off the MCG and Optus Stadium by modernising Accor Stadium with a new roof. Spruiking Sydney’s claim for the final on Friday, NSW sport and tourism minister Stuart Ayres said the business case is being studied.

“That is something we will do our homework on and make sure we have all the facts and figures right before we make that decision,” Ayres said.

“When you are thinking about a game that is played on a rectangular field, just play it in the biggest and best rectangular stadium this country has got … we are going to give rugby everything they need to do to make the decision.”

Wallaroos captain Shannon Parry said the 2029 Women’s Rugby World Cup would have a similar impact to the Australian women’s sevens team winning Olympic gold in 2016.

“It is absolutely huge,” Parry said.

“To have the 2027 and ’29 World Cup here in Australia is something that’s going to be very special. For the women, it is the second time it is in the southern hemisphere and I think you can see off the back of Rio and how successful that was for grassroots rugby, this will be a massive stepping stone.”

Watch every match of the Super Rugby Pacific on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport. Continues this weekend with Brumbies v Crusaders (Friday 7:15pm AEST), Blues v Reds (Saturday 4:30pm AEST) and Waratahs v Hurricanes (Saturday 7:15pm AEST). All streaming ad-free, live and on demand only on Stan Sport.

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