New Rugby WA chairman Tony Howarth is aiming for growth in crowds and membership in the 2016 Western Force season after what he admits have been some challenging times for the game.
“We’re back where there is lots of goodwill around rugby and potential to grow,” Mr Howarth told Business News.
Mr Howarth, who is one of Perth’s top company directors, said there were several contributors to the more positive outlook.
“With the change of leadership at the Australian Rugby Union and quite a successful campaign at the World Cup, I think rugby has got itself back into a good spot,” he said.
Mr Howarth believes the entry of teams from Japan and Argentina will boost the 2016 Super Rugby competition, which starts in February.
The sport is also set to benefit financially from new media broadcast rights.
“The ARU has done a really good job, and we now have to do a better job in what we need to do,” Mr Howarth said.
Mr Howarth formally took on the role of chairman in September, having been a board member since 2009. He succeeded former television executive Russel Perry, who passed away in July.
Although it has traded in the red for several years, Mr Howarth said RugbyWA was budgeting to finish in the black in 2016, helped by the new media deal.
He said sponsorship remained a significant challenge
“It’s a very competitive sponsorship market and football plays a dominant role,” Mr Howarth said.
In 2014, RugbyWA’s sponsorship revenue declined to $3.3 million, and total revenue fell to $16.2 million.
“This is a world game,” he said.
Mr Howarth, who has been a member at Cottesloe Rugby Club for 25 years, said there was also a very strong grassroots rugby community in WA.
Arguably the biggest challenge is getting more members and lifting attendance at Western Force home games, which averaged 11,000 last season.
“Our biggest competitor is television,” Mr Howarth said.
“From Friday night to Sunday, people can watch live rugby on television.
“Our challenge is to get people to the ground.”
Mr Howarth said RugbyWA would like there to be further development at nib Stadium, including replacement of the old stand and better corporate facilities, but recognises the government is focused on the Burswood stadium.
While there was scope for improvement, he said the 20,000-seat nib Stadium was a great venue at which to watch rugby.
For the first time in 2016, it will host a rugby international, when the Wallabies play Argentina.
“There is nothing better than being in a sell-out venue and I think there’s a high probability we will sell that out,” Mr Howarth said.
Western Force members will get priority ticketing access.
“That’s a good example of the ARU and RugbyWA working together to provide a benefit for Western Force members.”