NRL expansion must still be considered by ARLC

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Greg Florimo, CEO of the Central Coast Bears, has made a direct appeal to the rugby league community for assistance in bringing the question of expansion back to the table.

Recent polls suggest that around 90% of fans want expansion. After 10 years of trying, the Bears at least deserve the right to present a bid submission.

Edmund Burke, the prominent 18th Century Irish statesman said “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Do not allow evil to triumph. Do not do sit by and do nothing.”

With New Zealand rights and digital contracts set to reap the ARLC an additional $200m or thereabouts, the game is looking at a net result of $1.25 billion.

A great result which provides ample resources to secure existing clubs’ futures and massively increase grassroots support for junior and country rugby league.

Channel Nine claim not to be prepared to pay more for an additional game – but should that preclude expansion? Not if any prospective bids can add net value to the competition.

The acting CEO of the ARLC, Shane Mattiske, has stated that expansion is still possible if it can be proved a new entrant will not require additional funding and can strengthen grassroots involvement in the game.

The Bears tick both boxes.

The Rugby League Week poll released last month suggests 92% of fans want expansion, and of these, the Central Coast were overwhelmingly favoured by 46%, with Western Australia next on 29%.

These were the two leading contenders. The rest failed to garner much support: Central Queensland 13%, Brisbane Bombers 5%, Wellington 3%, Papua New Guinea 2% and Ipswich 2%.

Just as importantly, the favourite ground of fans to watch the game is Bluetongue (26%) ahead of Suncorp (21%), with no other venue over 10%.

This poll followed the News Limited poll a week prior which found WA and Central Coast neck and neck as overwhelming favourites for expansion.

These results aren’t an anomaly – they have been consistently repeated year after year, and every year Bluetongue fills to or near capacity to watch whatever scraps are thrown the Central Coast’s way.

Back to the ARLC’s newly stated position on expansion. In substance, this is nothing new.

John Quayle mentioned the key criteria months ago – an existing stadium, low costs, finance, demonstrated corporate and fan support.

After examining the Bears bid he said it’s a no brainer. He argued that they should be in, and put in urgently or the game would lose its player nursery on the Coast.

This is already starting to happen, with junior numbers down on the Coast. There can be no expansion to non-heartland areas if we can’t secure the player talent that will be fielded by any new teams.

The lowest cost model is obviously the CC Bears, as the infrastructure is in place, there is over 100 years experience in running a major league football club, and costs for the majority of visiting teams are minimal.

The only other low cost model (though not as low as the CC) would be a Suncorp based side. As for Quayle’s other criteria, the Bears are fully funded, obviously have a dedicated existing support base and are fully booked by significant corporate sponsors upon license grant.

With John Singleton potentially losing interest in rugby league, the Bears can buy the rights to the stadium they built, lock out prospective competitors and become a true community model – importantly, they own the playing rights at the stadium for the rest of the decade.

When looking at grassroots football (the other criteria stated by the ARLC) all three of Central Coast, western corridor and Central Queensland would achieve that mission admirably.

Though it would be desirable to add an extra game, to expand the League doesn’t need two teams entered simultaneously. The idea of staggering entry a la the AFL has enormous merit, particularly as the strongest of the bids on the newly stated criteria (the Bears) is ready to go now.

This would allow the ARLC to assist a less prepared entrant for 2016 entry.

Having two additional sides operating successfully at low cost before negotiations commence for the next TV deal would automatically increase the size of the subsequent outcome.

Also, adding the Bears now allows the Commission to make a healing and unifying statement that truly ends the Super League War.

With Cronulla’s position now apparently secure, calls for a relocation to the Coast are silenced.

All but the most naive acknowledge there can never be a stand-alone Central Coast side due to the lack of a corporate base on the Coast – the Bears bring not only their supporters, but the third largest corporate region in Australia behind Sydney CBD and Melbourne to the table.

For the Coast, it’s the Bears or nothing. As per Illawarra, to have a presence they need a linkage with a traditional supply route.

John Grant says the game is about the fans. The fans are the customers. The customers demand that expansion is back on the table.

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