How to build ‘real value’ in rugby league
It’s clear the Australian Rugby League Commission is, among other things, rebuilding and strengthening from the ground up.
The commission fills me with a lot of certainty. Maybe nothing is set in stone, but from the way things have happened so far and what’s been mentioned, I feel good about what they are trying to achieve.
I have full faith in the commission.
Just recently, John Grant mentioned the word “value”. But what is value and what is valued in rugby league?
Is it fan attendance culture or financial worth?
Back then I set out to define it, to the chagrin of many. Its not a comfortable subject; often, raw nerves were hit upon.
Since then, rugby league has tackled its dark procrastinating past. Rugby league is ready to move on and look to the future.
In the past there was the seeking of excuses and being “reactive”; people had less hope. Now, there is only talk of seeking solutions. Is it any wonder that people feel an overwhelming sense of freedom, more so than ever before in the past 20 years?
I may have once desired to follow in the footsteps of codes who have built themselves up, including soccer, NFL, baseball, AFL, but I don’t aspire for the game of RL to become them. The commission is showing, perhaps, what I once could not. That the game can grow and change, while still retaining itself in all its former glory. Like putting on a new shirt.
Value is the worth you place on something, and that worth is intricately related to how much you are willing to do for it.
So does league lack value? For you? For an on-looker? An insider?
How do you make someone want something? To you give it, then take it away? Do you offer something so compelling they cannot refuse? Do you set a high price? Do you make it accessible?
Where do we see rugby league heading? How will the game look? And how much should we change in order to realise it without losing what we have now?
It’s clear to me the game needs to change its ways. I am sure the commission is doing this and taking on new ideas.
But I think the most headway into this dilemma is simply a question of value for money for the fan in relation to all the various passion-levels out there.
The game lacks value to the wider sporting community in terms of getting their hands dirty and involved. And by that, I mean attending and being an active fan. We may only be able to change gradually the stigmas and detractions of supporting our game and being an ‘active’ fan, but in time, that will change.
Other sports say they offer greater value. This is not meant to be a comparison whereby we dig a trench and set up stakes. Let’s remain objective. In AFL, the tickets are often cheaper, the stadia is almost always better, the transport options greater and easier to tolerate, the atmosphere usually very good, and the product on the field considered to be the pinnacle of professional sports in this country by those who regularly attend matches.
In union, there are less games to attend, thus giving any supporter a greater sense of ‘value’ when he does attend.
In terms of value, rugby league may be lagging behind. It’s not something that is readily apparent. But to new fans, casual fans, or outsiders looking in, I am sure it’s obvious.
I am less concerned with TV deals than with feet on the ground, so to speak. Rugby league may have to change its ways a little bit.
To this end, we will need compromise, we will need to swallow our pride somewhat, and we will need a gradual shift in our mind-set.
Specifically, we will need to be less club-centric and more game-centric.
From what I have seen, Grant and the commission are doing just that.
Ideally, we must see the percentage rugby league generates from TV deals shrink, while the percentage it generates from “feet on the ground” presence increase.
The TV deal should take care of itself, it will be what it will be. Apart from negotiating strategies, it is based on an underlying value of fan support, and to an extent the perception of those fans, which is a reflection upon the game.
The things we once spoke of in future anticipation of value were things like memberships, sponsorships, merchandise, attendance, culture, family-participation or female participation, and junior participation.
Things are now in place, driving these things upward.
Now, as a game as a whole we need to help it all along; we need to increase the efficiency of the whole machine. We should not return to the days where we selfishly focus on certain clubs unless there is extenuating circumstances, which Phil Gould is trying to convince people of over at Penrith.
Maybe the game will take care of itself when it finally truly looks after itself. The value is there. We need to bring it to light.
The over-riding theme here is one of value. Rugby league has to be ‘better value’ to the sporting public.
We need to compel. I feel we have the best competition in the country in terms of the overall contest itself. It’s the closest competition there is week to week.
I also think we try to uphold the integrity of that contest the most. We know we must capitalise on that and its ties to the community.
Not only should rugby league demonstrate value to win fans over, it must keep their interest. Should it ever come to pass that another option is ever presented to the sports fan, we want rugby league to be able to present the most compelling case (where possible) for the fan to invest his time, energy, and money into the game.
We know that RL is a resilient game – but is it as resilient as we’d like in terms of peak-performance? In sheer relevance to its target audience, rugby league trumps all other sports. But what of those on the fringes? What of those who are just ‘coming’ into being a RL supporter, who are not sold yet? Those who we want to invite along and appeal to? The youths too young yet, and the outsiders looking in?
What can be done to increase the wider appeal of the game, to inside of the game fans and outside of the game fans?
Here are some ideas, points, concepts, and goals toward making this sport better value all-round: to fans, to TV networks, to corporates and sponsors and potential fans alike:
1. Become a highly regarded, highly competitive national sporting competition
We need a team in Perth and a second in Brisbane. When this happens, through expansion, we must ensure we remain a level competition without too many blowouts. The evenness of our competition is one of our strengths.
2. Gain an attendance average over 25,000 per game, with a 20,000 minimum average attendance for each team
This is possible only with better stadia. The key is Sydney. We need fans to be able to get to the grounds as quickly and as easily as possible. The grounds need to be modern. The opportunity for corporate sales and all-inclusion of as many fans as possible cannot be overlooked for much longer. Despite what we may think, its not always a cherished thing to sit in older stadia. To do this, we will need to improve stadia and share grounds. We will also need to lobby for better public transport, such as a train station near the SFS.
We also need to upgrade Parramatta stadium to at least 30k, with a decent roof. Then, the SFS and Parramatta should be used for as many Sydney derbies as possible. It may end up being that teams like Manly, Cronulla and Penrith still play more games at their traditional homes than others. Older venues will still be in use, but for fixtures against out of town teams.
3. Get a fixed schedule
Be it one fixed until half way or three-quarters way through the season, or for the entire season, we need to lock-in days and times before the season starts.
4. Club revenue must exceed 25million per year
Running a club on less than 20 million a year is simply ineffective for the competition’s health. We need each club strong and spreading the rugby league mantra in the strongest possible ways. Moving to larger venues and increasing attendances will go a long way toward this. Also, spreading the money the code generates more fairly will help too.
5. Average ticket prices need to be lower.
We need to fill stadiums before we worry about generating too much revenue from them where appropriate. In line with the new stadium plan, it needs to include a new ticketing structure. Kids must get in for cheap. If you even look like a kid, a teen, then you get in for cheap. No more than five dollars a head.
We could look at implementing a supply-demand ticket pricing scheme for some or all matches, where early-bird purchases come cheaper and prices increase closer to kick-off. We could also have provision for free entry for someone sponsored by a member. If a member sponsors you to attend perhaps one match per year, you can get in for cheap. Clubs could work together on ticketing arrangements, splitting revenue as required. Clubs can work together to make a game an event and cooperate to lobby government re: stadium deals.
6. Assimilation of Queensland and NSW cups into a joint reserve grade
Perhaps combining forces with Queensland and NSW cup sides, or joining them for either part or all the season will provide the best benefit to the game and players making their way through the ranks. Certainly, having state local league teams funding themselves for reserve grade with TV exposure will definitely help the reserve grade competition with funding, and will lighten the load on the NRL.
7. Origin in Perth within three years
While there would be issues with the time zone, Origin must go to Perth soon. This would help build support for the new team.
If the game can provide more value for supporters in terms of stadia, ticketing and transport to and from games, it will raise the game’s esteem in their eyes. This would lead to an increase of active-interest, both visible, and behind the scenes in the hearts and minds of people.
The changes will pay off immediately with increased attendance, sponsorships and a nationwide presence. This will then lead to more money flowing into the game over time, and greater security for the code if it handles its finances correctly.
As far as perception goes, Sydney is the first nut to crack. It is straddled the most, due to weight of teams and lack of good stadia. The next is cooperation. Teams lobbying together for stadia deals would be a great show of force. Obviously much is preventing too much movement in this regard, but headway can be made.
All in all, I think rugby league has a lot of room to get even better in the coming years.
With the Commission’s game-centric approach, how can rugby league fail?