Pirates bid the right fit for the NRL
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ARL Commission Chamirman John Grant. AAP Image/Dean Lewins
In one of John Grant’s first media interviews after taking over as Chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC), he poured cold water on the idea of expansion in the NRL.
It was a slight shock to those who thought the Commission would be in favour of such bold moves. It also had several bidders scratching their heads, wondering whether pouring money into a potential rugby league side was a good idea. At that point, sending 50 dollar notes into a paper shredder would’ve yielded the same return.
It seems Grant didn’t want to over-promise and under-deliver though because yesterday another suitor nailed its flag to the mast.
West Australian Rugby League (WARL) chief executive John Sackson gave life to the West Coast Pirates.
It followed discussions with the ARLC where Sackson was given the impression that expansion would be welcomed once the new TV rights deal was signed, sealed and delivered in September this year.
The Pirates are believed to be a key component of the ARLC’s discussions with the various media outlets. Having a side based in Perth provides plenty of scheduling options for rights holders and fans alike.
But this isn’t just a quick grab for cash.
Sackson has been working on the WARL’s bid for three years and has mapped out pathways for the game in the state that run from the Pirates brand right down to the junior leagues.
Perth Glory owner Tony Sage and Balmain and New South Wales legend Benny Elias had previously spoken to the ARLC about a rival bid that had no association with the WARL.
Sage intended to mirror what Nathan Tinkler had done with the Newcastle Knights and while the money attached appeared inviting, blindsiding the WARL was a strange choice.
Working in conjunction surely would’ve been a better option.
The two parties met recently and found little to no common ground. A relationship, at this stage, appears unlikely.
Ditching the ‘Reds’ name was also a smart move.
The colours remain, but the brand needed to start from a fresh base and the Pirates name provides that.
Similarly, it would’ve been a disaster if the Titans had have called themselves the Chargers or Seagulls.
Player agents picked up the scent around 12-months ago and Sackson has had discussions not just about players, but coaches as well.
He’s also known to favour recruiting, not just good players, but a name capable of providing “cut through” into the local market.
That market, in many ways, already exists.
Plenty of rugby league loving people have moved west from Queensland and New South Wales chasing opportunity in a state thriving on the back of the mining boom.
Those people have been in the stands at recent NRL matches that have attracted impressive crowds when compared to several Sydney clubs.
Some club CEOs remain wary of expansion. The ARLC will need to show them that their own fortunes won’t be harmed by any new clubs.
Grant himself has said in the past that the competitions existing tenants deserve to share in the riches of the new TV deal before expansion is considered.
But that TV deal may not be as big if expansion isn’t included in the deal.
A team in Western Australia and a second team in Brisbane could deliver the big bucks required. More content equals more money.
You can follow Luke Doherty on Twitter @Luke_Doherty and on Sky News Australia.