Listen to the fans and allow Central Coast Bears in

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Should the Central Coast Bears have a look-in during expansion talks?

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So who runs the game, anyway? David Gallop constantly says it’s the fans. That being the case, the fans have spoken.

Overwhelmingly, in any expansion poll of reputable sample size carried out over the past three years, the Central Coast Bears have won, usually with daylight second. Following daylight, Perth or Central Queensland trail.

And right at the bottom of the list, often behind Dubbo and Mars, come Brisbane and Ipswich.

Few want a Queensland side other than David Gyngell. In fact, Queensland poll participants are generally the highest voters in favour of adding the Bears due to the Queensland connection with the Bears in the ’80s and ’90s, when ironically we were one of the most watched teams on TV.

Channel Nine has reduced the quality and commentary of rugby league coverage in Australia to rock bottom and they get to decide on expansion? The game can now call the shots and prove that fans are important, not self-interested clubs or networks. Today’s news that Channel 10 is going to bid hard for all eight games/per week (soon to be nine) is a breath of fresh air.

It will allow the Independent Commission to dictate terms to the networks. Once bids reach a tipping point of $900,000, the gap between the salary cap and grants can be closed, ensuring existing clubs can be looked after and funds set aside for junior/regional development. At this point, like AFL, the game itself can decide where it wants to expand to, not the networks.

The first bid that must be accepted is the Central Coast Bears, as the opportunity cost of excluding them is higher than with other bids. If the Central Coast does not receive a license in 2012, the bid will shut down and the Central Coast’s chances of ever getting a team will be gone forever.

The Coast is not large enough to sustain a team on its own due to a lack of heavy industry/commercial headquarters, hence needs to link either north or south for corporate opportunities. North is Newcastle, south is the north shore, where the game is withering due to the lack of the Bears.

Since exclusion, three junior teams have folded in northern Sydney and only through the hard work of the Bears has a team been reformed this year (Lane Cove Tigers).

The nearest NRL team, Manly, for historical reasons is unable to connect with the north shore and following the Northern Eagles debacle, the Central Coast.

Any start up team or relocated team on the Coast will not connect with the north shore and will be therefore unsustainable, hence it’s now or never for the Coast.

The bid team will present to the IC evidence they can increase free-to-air and pay-TV viewership, which should negate any claims that they do not add media rights value. Other advantages for the bid include:

• Minimal away travel costs for Sydney teams.

• Engagement in two enormous derbies – Newcastle and Manly, which will boost attendance profits for all three clubs and provide a primary marketing tool to leverage merchandise/membership sales from every year. Benefits also accrue to other Sydney teams, though obviously in proportion to distance.

• Instant profit centre – low start up costs as the experience and infrastructure to run an NRL team is already in place as is the fan base, with 7704 financial memberships and research indicating there will be full or near capacity crowds at Bluetongue every match. Any new start up will face precisely the struggles the Titans are facing now.

• Opportunity to engage with the third largest corporate region in Australia that doesn’t have a locally based national sporting team, and close to one million people that don’t have a locally based national sporting team.

• Partly owned by the stadium they will play in.

• Increased interest in the game. Many non-RL people will show interest in a team based at Bluetongue representing their regional community. Fans of existing teams will happily go to the ground and cheer for their team when playing.

The kids are already Bears fans through the Bears’ efforts – they have no past prejudices. North shore residents simply abandoned the game when the Bears were turfed and follow AFL and Union. Only the Bears will bring them back.

The bid team is mindful they need to prove they will not harm existing teams, and their ownership and sponsorship profile indicates this has already been achieved, without a license.

I would like to see four teams be given licenses, staggered over two entry dates. Central Coast and either Pert or South-East Queensland for 2015, (or both if an existing team is relocated to one of these venues), and the loser plus Central QLD granted provisional licenses (subject to them fulfilling criteria such as stadium/membership criteria) for inclusion in 2020. Should relocation occur, Wellington could enter with Central Queensland in 2020.

Some of the bid teams have spent enormous sums of money in garnering corporate and community support. Volunteers from the Bears, for example, have spent time away from family for many weekends over two years now.

Denied passion leads to bitterness.

To be ignored will ensure these bids will disappear along with many fans and sponsors and the game will not be able to grow.

Photo via Central Coast Bears website.

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