New Insignia Not A Good Sign

New_NRL_logoBy STEVE MASCORD

IT wasn’t a statement, a photograph or a decision. Of all things, it was a logo.

To those of us who hoped the Australian Rugby League Commission would usher in a new, outward looking philosophy that recognised its duty to lead the game globally, the new NRL logo strongly suggests we were idiots.

Whereas the previous logo acknowledged the Warriors by including black and white with the ubiquitous green and gold, the new symbol – which you’ve no doubt seen by now – is so Australian that the Auckland franchise will not be required to wear it! It’s an Australian jersey with the southern cross (someone suggested colouring in the stars as featured on the New Zealand flag would have been a nice touch. Not a chance).

It’s a throwback to the 1990s when Brisbane wore a big blue NSWRL logo on the left of their chests – and we all know how that ended up don’t we? Not that the New Zealand Warriors are going to launch breakaway competition any time soon but it’s clear a slap in the face for a constituency that David Gallop once descibed as “the jewel in the crown” of the entire competition.

Since John Grant and his compadres came to power, they have slavishly aligned themselves with the Australian team. Grant even reads out the side, the commissioners wore green and gold ties to the Anzac Test and only visited the Australian rooms.

Gallop always distanced himself from such parochialism. The divided responsibilities of the NRL and ARL may have been tiresome but this “church and state” demarkation line between the club competition and representative football was a good one – one which I, for one, now miss. It’s almost as if the commission thinks Australia NEEDS their help which it clearly does not, if the 18-10 win over New Zealand on October 14 is anything to go by.

To be fair, some of the aims announced on October 29 as part of the NRL’s new strategic plan are admirable. The objectives, for 2017, are:

• An NRL growth fund which will have made $200m available for investment in key projects.

• Club membership reaching 400,000;

• Rugby League social media platforms will engage 5.8m people;

• Average attendance at NRL games will increase to 20,000 (that’s a big one isn’t it?)

• 700,000 people will play in competitions (in Australia);

• 1.8m will be engaged in NRL community programs;

• 1.65m will take part in Rugby League activities;

• 84% of all NRL players will be engaged in education or career training;

• Central revenue will have doubled to more than $300m.

If there’s something about that list that strikes you as odd, but you just can’t put your finger on it, I’ll spell it out for you – this administration has put its balls on the line and that’s not something we are used to.

The commissioners have also put expansion on the back-burner until the end of 2014 at the soonest. This has upset plenty of people but there is a war to be waged on the home front. The former NRL CEO, David Moffett, was big on strategic plans but his administration – a marriage of convenence between the ARL and News International – was not.

As a result, his version of the stategic plan stayed in a bottom draw somewhere at the old headquarters in Fox Studios.

The “growth fund” is clearly there to counter the AFL’s incursions into the Gold Coast and Western Sydney. It is a fraction, however, of the fugure that sports has to spend. Likewise, AFL club membership passed the 400,000 mark some years ago.

Ross Smart, the former Parramatta and Canterbury media manager, recently made a good point in an online columm about the social media aims of the administration. What about traditional media? While the RFL and World Cup organisers are moving heaven an earth to get into the traditional media, that fact the NRL hardly mentions it the new document suggests it is not even a major priority.

As Smart writes at sportsbizinsider.com.au , most people in Australia and New Zealand still get their news from the daily press “fading star or not”.

The next three aims are self-explanatory; as a sport we should be able to top a million participants worldwide. the NRL won a global award for its community work recently and I guess a fan day or two would count as “rugby league activities”.

The NRL’s aim at doubling central revenue during a period when the television rights will be static is indeed interesting. Clearly, they are expecting the digital realm to explode with people watching more and more games on their tablets and laptops and these areas being secure enough for the ARLC to extract a premium for the rights.

So what of the team that John Grant now reads out before every game?

In the past few Anzac Tests, even when the scoreline has been relatively tight, there has been a feeling that the Australians were cruising. That was certainly the case at Eden Park earlier this year. But on October 14, the Kiwis were genuinely in the game for much of the match, scoring first and hanging on under pressure for long periods.

In the end, two North Queensland ‘locals’ (as in residents), James Tamou and Matt Scott, were probably the difference. Which, in the case of Tamou, takes us back across the sideline and into the boadroom again.

The New Zealand Rugby League showed up at their meeting with the Australians on game day with a list of players in the Junior Kiwis would could conceivably be poached by the Aussies. But it seems barring Junior Kiwis from playing for Australia is as far as the ARLC is willing to go in altering international qualification rules.

This could have the effect of just discouraging players from representing the Junior Kiwis. The Australians also wanted two referees in Townsville – something which the Kiwis would have been happy with.

In the end, they got an Australian referee even though the appointments at the World Cup will be neutral.

On the field, as off, we antipodeans are great at being underdogs. As leaders? Hmmm. “Could do better” would be the diplomatic assessment.

Filed for: FORTY-20 MAGAZINE

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