At the end of the day, the National Rugby League is 100 per cent reliant on one thing: you.
Without you – the fans – there are no ticket sales, no merchandise sold, no Foxtel subscriptions, no sponsors, no third party sponsorship, and certainly no broadcast deals.
We always get told things from the NRL marketing people like “It’s your game” and are invited to take up club membership with lines like “join the family” and “you’re the difference.”
However, when push comes to shove, who else feels like we – the match attending, telecast viewing, season ticket-buying fans – are actually well down the pecking order of those who run the game?
There are some actions taken by NRL HQ that are at odds with the marketing lines that also emanate from Moore Park. While there have been improvements recently, State of Origin ticket prices and allocations seem to have become a cash cow that heavily favour the corporate end of town.
These issues show that those in charge can forget that the fans are actually their most important stakeholder. Most of us have an expectation that the NRL’s chief responsibility is to run a fair and equitable competition. For many of us our team and the competition is one of the most important things in our lives.
It can be sobering to put your life in perspective. However, the reality for the great many of us is that we are destined to be in a lower paying job, doing the bidding of another to earn our living.
Some of us are cleaning toilets, some of us are digging ditches, some of us are laying bricks, or operating a check out, or answering phone calls, or working in a kitchen, or repairing cars, or being a sales rep, or sitting in an office writing about things that don’t matter and passing them on to people who don’t care.
These jobs are a means to an end. Paying the rent. Feeding and clothing the kids. Keeping the car on the road. It’s great we have these jobs but it doesn’t mean that they fulfill us or give us a greater sense of worth or belonging.
That’s where the footy comes in. In supporting our team we can be part of something greater than ourselves and find a sense of belonging. Of course there is also the quest for glory. However, it is that sense of belonging that really matters.
I love Jerry Seinfeld. His long running show in the 1990’s had so many great and memorable quotes and I use them as frequently. However, I’ve always thought this one was total bollocks:
“We’re a little too into sports in this country. I think we should throttle back. You know what I mean? People come home from these games: ‘WE WON! WE WON!’
This sentiment can only come from a person who doesn’t get it.
We did far more than watch. We dressed in our clubs colours and waved our flags. We urged our boys on loudly. We screamed at the ref to “GET THEM ONSIDE!” We gave the match atmosphere. And most importantly we bought our season tickets and showed up – often bringing with us the next generation of players and fans.
If you don’t think the fans are part of ‘we’ you are sorely mistaken. I can assure you that Josh Reynolds, Aaron Woods, Trent Merrin, Blake Austin, Johnathan Thurston, Tim Mannah, James Maloney and Tom Trbojevic think of their fans as ‘we.’ Each one loves the game and would be in the stands with you if they hadn’t made it.
Some seasons give us fans everything we could hope for. After 50 seasons the Sharks finally brought the premiership trophy home to their long-suffering fans. In 2014 the Rabbitohs fans went berserk over their first title in over four decades. In 2015 most of Far North Queensland went ballistic as Johnathan Thurston slotted the winning field goal in golden point extra time.
Then there is the other end of the spectrum.
We all enter the new season with hope and expectations that this season might be a good one, only to have those hopes often too quickly dashed. The Rabbitohs supporters not only had to deal with getting flogged in Round 1, they also lost their captain and superstar for the season.
While the long-suffering Dragons fans were ecstatic with their first up win, they were brought crashing to earth by the thrashing at the hands of the Eels. The Warriors fans saw the same old ineffectual rubbish from their side as they capitulated to the Melbourne machine.
We Raiders fans watched on as the reigning premiers flogged our boys. All that preseason hope took a huge battering. The next day I did anything I could to distract myself from analysing just what went so badly wrong. That included showering my cat. Eduardo Luis took a few chunks out of me in the process but even the severe pain of his attacks couldn’t distract me from the utter disappointment of my Raiders’ capitulation.
But I can guarantee you I’ll be back and I won’t give up on my side. Just like the Dragons, Warriors and Rabbitohs fans won’t give up on their boys. It’s my team and I am in for the long haul. I was supporting the club long before any of those players were born and I’ll be supporting it until someone glues the lid shut on my corrugated cardboard coffin and sends it down the chute.
Effectively, the players that run out onto the field are just caretakers of our jumpers. Their average career span is less than ten years. A supporter is for life. We fans don’t support players, they come and go. We support teams.
If Jarryd Hayne had returned to Parramatta the fans would have welcomed their prodigal son back with open arms. His successes and failures would have again been theirs.
However, by going to the Gold Coast he declared that he – like Sonny Bill Williams – was a gun for hire.
Fans will welcome a superstar like Hayne or SBW in the hope that they will tip the scales and help bring glory. Everything SBW has touched has turned to gold. However, things have been tougher for Hayne. His performances for the Titans have yet to be top class. He has run foul of his leadership group and now he has a long term injury.
An injured mercenary has very few friends.
A team down on their luck, however, can still have dedicated and unwavering support.
In recent years the Knights fans have endured the Tinkler debacle, the departure of Wayne Bennett, a big turnover of players, two consecutive wooden spoons and 336 days without a single win.
And yet their fans never stopped showing up.
Over the last three tumultuous seasons their average home crowd has been 16,000. Last season they averaged 14,457 fans per game in spite of the horror results.
To put that number in context, the sides that finished in the top four in 2016 had the following crowd averages:
• Cowboys – 17,260
• Raiders – 13,806
• Storm – 19,024
• Sharks – 14,579
This shows that the Knights’ fans are the sort of people you’d want next to you in the trenches. They don’t give up. They don’t desert. The fans are that club.
In the celebrations following the win over the Titans – that featured the embarrassing reality that the victorious players didn’t even know the team victory song – the players and coaching staff rightly acknowledged their incredibly loyal crowd and how much they deserved the victory.
And yet some (insert your preferred expletives) has put up the idea of moving the ‘franchise’ to Brisbane… That idea deserves as much respect as a comb over.
To contemplate moving a side that averaged 14,457 fans each home match during a season from hell is the sort of utter stupidity that I’m unfortunately starting to expect from the movers and shakers in our sport.
The Newcastle Knights are a club, not a franchise. They are of – and belong to – the proud and indomitable Novocastrians. We should salute their resilience and fortitude.
How dare anyone suggest that their team could be picked up and moved.
I’m sick of hearing of these sort of stupid ideas.
I reckon it is time that you – the fans – told us what you actually thought on the many issues facing the game.
So here is ‘The Roar’s rugby league fan survey’.
Tell us what you think and we’ll let NRL HQ what matters to the most important people in the game of rugby league – you, the fans.