Rugby’s image, finances and on-field performances have taken a hit since CEO Raelene Castle took charge and the problems are continuing, writes Mike Colman.
Rugby’s image, finances and on-field performances have taken a hit since CEO Raelene Castle took charge and the problems are continuing, writes Mike Colman.

Mike Colman: 'Rugby’s castle is turning into sand'

OPINION

This line is becoming monotonous, but it looks like rugby boss Raelene Castle has dropped the ball again.

The current imbroglio over the code's broadcasting rights is just the latest potential fiasco in what has become a seemingly constant trail of financial and public relations disasters for the code and its CEO.

Given the way rugby's image, finances and on-field performances have plummeted since Kiwi import Castle took the reins you could be forgiven for thinking that she is a foreign agent sent over the ditch by the All Blacks to derail the game in this country.

If that is the case Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern should give her the Order of New Zealand because she's doing a bloody good job.

Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle has had a challenging year. Picture: Getty Images
Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle has had a challenging year. Picture: Getty Images

From her handling of the Israel Folau debacle at a rumoured cost of over $3 million, to her no-talkies relationship with national coach Michael Cheika as the misfiring Wallabies limped their way out of the World Cup, the headlines have hardly been inspiring.

And now this. In order to be fair, before writing this article I rang around to people who know a lot more about these things than me, and asked if they could offer one positive that could come out of Castle's decision to turn her back on long-time rugby rights holder Fox.

Not one could.

The best they could come up with was that Optus might offer more money that Fox.

But then again, they said, they might not, especially if - with Fox saying they have withdrawn from the process - Optus is the only bidder.

Even Raelene Castle must know that if you are trying to auction your house you need at least two people putting their hand up.

The Israel Folau saga dominated the headlines in a World Cup year. Picture: AAP
The Israel Folau saga dominated the headlines in a World Cup year. Picture: AAP

And even if Optus does offer RA more than the $200 million that Fox reportedly put on the table, in the world of sports broadcasting there is more to a deal than just dollars and cents.

There is the quality and reach of the broadcast, the number of people who watch and the amount of support the sport receives from the rights holder away from the actual coverage.

In the case of Fox, which is owned by News Corporation - publishers of The Courier-Mail and dozens of major and local newspapers around the country - that editorial support can be enormous.

Optus does not have any newspapers. It doesn't even have any TV stations.

Castle and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika did not communicate. Picture: Getty Images
Castle and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika did not communicate. Picture: Getty Images

If the streaming rights go to Optus, viewers will have to pay to watch premium matches on their phone, tablet or computer just as they do with the EPL, and you can look up the figures to see how well that has worked out.

The jewel in the crown as far as Castle's plan is concerned is the possibility of some Super Rugby and club matches being telecast on free-to-air.

For that, she and her advisors have walked away from a sure thing to risk everything on a maybe.

You never know, she could be due for a win, but given her luck of late you wouldn't bet your house on her.


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