Written by Keith Whitelock
Other clubs need to be better
Recently News Limited papers published a “leaked” NRL head office document ranking all 16 clubs on “viability”. Factors of membership numbers, average amount paid per member, crowd figures, gate takings, corporate hospitality, total number of staff and overall revenue were all considered. The angle of the article was titled the “shocking proof of Brisbane’s unfair advantage”. This title just goes to typify how some in media play on peoples ill-informed opinions to market articles based not on the under performance of most clubs, but the overperformance or “unfair advantage” of one club.
If Rugby league is to truly realise it’s potential, then we need to start thinking about how other clubs can head towards $32.9 million in annual revenue turnover as well. Yes, Brisbane are a one city team but rather than heading towards the opinion that the game needs to dilute this monopoly by adding another team, let’s learn from what the top 4 most viable teams are doing right. Whilst Brisbane were clear “winners” in the viability rankings, South Sydney, New Zealand and Melbourne were ranked 2, 3 and 4 respectively. Does this not point out the glaringly obvious fact that one city teams are more likely to succeed?
Adding another team to Brisbane just to dilute the success of the Broncos is simply an attempt to bring a successful club back down to a mediocre field. In addition to this, the game doesn’t need another Brisbane team. Brisbane rugby league fans are already diehard, loyal and rusted on. Sure, the club has a huge advantage with scheduling (playing almost every Friday night) but this article is not about scheduling, it’s about revenue and the back-end finances of clubs.
Adding another team to Brisbane is unlikely to see Broncos fans jump ship and start following another team, the same way the now defunct South Queensland Crushers struggled for support. The Crushers also played out of Lang Park (now Suncorp Stadium) and debuted in 1995, the same year as the North Queensland Cowboys, Auckland Warriors and the Western Reds. As with most new teams, the first year often attracts respectable crowds and support primarily due to the novelty value. By their third year, the Crushers simply couldn’t compete with the Broncos level of support. Attendances went from regularly seeing 20,000 people show up in 1995 before rapidly declining to embarrassing levels as low as 2,364 when the team went down 8-34 to the Illawarra Steelers. What would be different this time round? A larger population, more corporate support, a better Stadium? The reality is that new teams take 20 years for “generational fans” to be created.
Time and money would be much better spent strategizing how to replicate the success of the Broncos. The Melbourne Storm are fast gaining ground on the Broncos and it’s not out of the question that they may even one day overtake the Broncos as the biggest club in the game. The Storm have now been in the competition for over 20 years and have a loyal base of members, paying $262 each year, more on average than any other fanbase in the game. Imagine if Perth’s Western Reds didn’t become the victim of Super League politics and had stuck around. Despite what many in our game think, the Reds achieved higher average crowds than a lot of Sydney teams did at the time and would no doubt have established a very respectable fan base by now had they been allowed to continue.
The reintroduction of a team in Perth is a no brainer. The time slot alone makes them attractive to TV networks. Add to this a city coming up on 2 million people and the recent demise of the Western Force and you have a recipe for another big club within 20 years. This is the mentality the game needs to take if it’s not going to be left behind. As stated above, yes there are some advantages the Broncos get with scheduling but rather than hate on a successful club, let’s grow up a little bit and figure out the easiest way to replicate this success elsewhere. Grow the pie, don’t just continue to cut more pieces.