Ten years of crowd growth for the NRL
Dave Taylor is tackled by Gareth Ellis during the Round 21 (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay)
So the 2012 NRL season has come to a close, with the Melbourne Storm beating Canterbury 14-4 in the grand final.
This season has been a good one on the crowd front for the NRL with 2012 having the second highest aggregate for a season on record with with 3,486,494.
This year it marked the end of David Gallop’s reign of CEO of the NRL. Gallop commenced his role in 2002.
So with crowd averages in mind, I figured that I should do a crowd comparison between Gallop’s first year in 2002 and his last year in 2012.
Let’s evaluate any differences that occurred during the ten year period.
In season 2012, Brisbane led the way with 33,377 which is not bad considering they play majority of their home matches on Friday night.
Also playing at Suncorp is a hundred times better than the old QEII stadium, where in their last season averaged just over 20,000.
Canterbury performed well with 23,572, an excellent average for the minor premiers and runners up. Todd Greenberg and the Bulldogs have certainly embraced playing their home matches at ANZ stadium.
It is no surprise that the Bulldogs averaged very well this year. Last year, the Bulldogs came ninth and averaged 19,528
While in season 2002, they only averaged 14,160. In 2002, the Bulldogs were also performing well on the field, coming first until they were busted for salary cap rorting. That occurred after 23 rounds, very late in the season, and could not have had much of an impact on crowds.
If you put aside the salary cap scandal, Canterbury were coming first and only managed an average crowd of just of 14,000. Yet this year in the same position (except for a salary cap drama), they averaged over 23,000.
Huge credit must go to Todd Greenberg and the management at Canterbury for turning around the club after dramas involving salary cap and Coffs Harbour. Hopefully the James Graham incident and the Mad Monday controversy doesn’t put a bite in the Bulldogs crowds next year.
Both are the first real controversies under Greenberg’s watch. With the team continuing to perform well, they could average 30,000 before the decade is out.
Newcastle continue to be mad about their rugby league, with numbers close to 21,000. The Parramatta Eels, who came last this year averaged 16,803.
The Canberra Raiders came last in 2012, with just 10,190 – 158 worse off than 2002. That’s despite the fact that Canberra came sixth and were knocked out in week two of the finals.
Also Canberra had the most sub 10,000 crowds with six, followed by Penrith with five and Cronulla, another top eight team, with four.
There has been talk that Canberra could get an indoor stadium before 2020 to offset the cold in the winter months. The other consideration is that Canberra Stadium is ageing and there is some doubt as to the standard of facilities in the future.
With Brisbane averaging 33,000, they obviously lead the way with crowds above 20,000. Every home game (12) had a crowd over 20,000.
They were followed by Canterbury with seven, while Newcastle had six home games over 20,000.
Certainly the comparisons between 2002 and 2012 in regards to crowds below 10,000 and crowds above 20,000 is quite telling. In 2002, 60 matches out of 180 had matches less than 10,000.
That is a third (33%) of a season.
Fast forward ten years, that figure has dropped to 23 matches with crowds below 10,000 out of 192, which amounts to 12%.
As for crowds over 20,000, in 2002, 19 matches achieved this out of 180 matches, which is 10.5%.
In 2012, 43 matches had over 20,000 in attendance, which, out of 192 matches, is 22%, nearly a quarter of the season.
The reasons are many and varied. Clubs in recent times have increasingly focused on membership drives, which has the NRL with now over 200,000 members.
Also new stadiums and upgrades to venues like Suncorp, Skilled Park, AAMI Park and Hunter Stadium have contributed to the increase.
There is still a long way to go with other venues in the NRL like Brookvale and Leichhart Oval well behind modern standards.
Monday Night Football was reintroduced in 2007, the same time the Gold Coast Titans came in the comp. This year in MNF matches the crowd average was 13,377, 3000 less than the home and away average.
Also there were only three matches that had less than 10,000 people attend on Mondays. In 2007 15,682 was the average for MNF.
When Gallop started in 2002, Souths had just rejoined the comp. The Northern Eagles, a failed joint venture between Manly and North Sydney, entered their third and final year before the merger failed and they became Manly Warringah in 2003.
In 2012, the Independent Commission has come in and the league has negotiated a bumper television deal for the next five years.
How to continue the increase in crowd averages?
On thing the NRL can do is have more marquee type matches scheduled. In 2002, the Sydney Roosters played against the St. George-Illawarra Dragons on ANZAC Day, starting the now traditional clash.
In that year, the crowd was 20,588. This year the crowd nearly doubled to 40,164. So in the past, it was an ordinary run of the mill club game played on ANZAC Day.
Now it is a major event.
I would like to see the NRL schedule one double header at both ANZ and Allianz per year. Also, a good Friday match with Souths v Canterbury could become a great annual fixture. This would capitalise on the Royal Easter Show and could see crowds of up to 60 or 70,000.
Overall, the NRL crowds have grown significantly over the past ten years, and with fixed scheduling in the next television deal, the platform is laid for further growth.
Here are the crowd averages of each club in seasons 2002 and 2012, plus home and away season averages and overall averages when combined with the finals crowds
Brisbane 33,377 20,131
Canberra 10,190 10,348
Canterbury 23,572 14,160
Cronulla 13,234 13,409
Gold Coast 14,405 n/a
Manly 14,593 n/a
Melbourne 12,685 9,088
Newcastle 20,919 18,519
Warriors 17,111 15,756
Nth Queensland 14,415 12,133
Parramtta 16,803 14,088
Penrith 10,858 11,008
Souths 18,904 14,790
Dragons 16,426 12,450
Sydney Roosters 12,482 11,449
Wests Tigers 16,227 12,704
Northern Eagles n/a 9,331
Games 192 Games 180
Total: 3,153,142 Total: 2,355,184
Average: 16423 Average: 13,084
Finals games 9 Finals games 9
Total: 333,352 Total: 301,014
Average 37039 Average 33,446
Overall: Gm: 201 Overall: Gm: 189
Total: 3,486,494 Total: 2,656,198
Average: 17,346 Average: 14,054
Crowds below 10,000 in home and away
23 (2012) 60 (2002)
Crowds above 20,000 in home and away
43 (2012) 19 (2002)
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