EVERY year, around this time, a column like this appears that critiques the NRL finals format.
This year, the concerns are not on the field. Sydney Roosters and South Sydney have been the best sides all year and they are facing opposition this weekend in the preliminary finals that most people expect them to beat.
Instead, the concerns lie over the advertising hoardings and in the crowds. One, the attendance figures are not deemed expensive enough and two, the pricing structures are deemed unfair.
When it comes to crowds, our glasses are not so much rose-coloured as opaque, fire engine red. The late eighties are perceived as being our salad days, with Tina Turner, the Green Machine et al. A midweek play-off in 1989 for fifth spot failed to attract 10,000 fans and the turnouts for the following weekend were 18,186 and 29,508.
We now have four games on that first weekend, obviously meaning a greater aggregate crowd and higher gate receipts – but also greater running costs.
When Souths played Balmain in week two, the crowd was 40,000 but when the bunnies took on Canberra for a grand final spot, it dropped to 31,469.
Generally speaking, average crowds across an entire rugby league season did not hit five figures until this century. Crowds in the various “golden ages” of the premiership were actually not that lustrous.
Back then we were competing with our own past and attendances were compared within rugby league. These days, we compare ourselves with other sports – the NRL is a competitive entity.
What about ticket prices? Selling blocks of seats through outside agencies is a trick rock promoters have been using for years. Sometimes a wad of tickets will be sold to a scalper before they go on sale to the general public, to test the market and bring in a bit of capital. Imagine if the NRL did that!
Big Issue does have a point here.
David Smith was on the Financial Review Sunday spruiking a “record surplus” of the NRL this year. He’s made some smart moves, like buying or touch football, and we hear there’ll be more “buying back the farm” in future weeks.
But as someone who is a merchant banker, they are his terms of reference. He wants a surplus. If it goes back into game development and not to shareholders, that’s fine but he’s a CEO with a corporate outlook which is why we have higher grand final ticket prices and differing price scales at the finals intended to maximise profit.
We, on the other hand, come from a different viewpoint.
We see ourselves not as customers of the NRL, but as constituents. Many of us think of the players and officials like we see elected officials – people who survive not just on our money but on our goodwill and the time we invest in working the canteen, washing the jumpers, or even running a tipping comp or maintaining a blog.
We don’t like to be taken for granted.
We think we have more of a say in rugby league than the customers of a bank do. It seems a straightforward argument regarding grand final tickets: charge what the market can support. Many of you don’t agree with that philosophy but … we need to start articulating why.
If a big profit, increased visibility and participation, reduced costs and market domination are the priorities of the NRL, then what are ours’? We can’t argue against things unless we have alternatives of our own.
Tell me what priorities the NRL should have. What “policies” would make you “elect” an administration if you had that power? We’ll put together a fans’ charter in the coming weeks.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK