Expansion and new teams: Chasing the fickle leaves the loyal behind

M_Campbell23 Roar Guru

By M_Campbell23, M_Campbell23 is a Roar Guru

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    Around Australia, sporting governing bodies are seeking to increase their share of Australia’s increasingly fickle supporters as commerce take hold over sport.

    They do this either by expansion, taking their competitions into areas they have not previously been appreciated, or by re-launching their competitions by the creation of new formats and new teams.

    However try as they might, administrators and marketing men cannot invent teams and expect fans to support them as they would a team which has existed for decades.

    Moreover, by liquidating these traditional teams and replacing them with supposedly more marketable equivalents, they are clutching at the soul of the sports themselves.

    This weekend saw Australian cricket enter a new era with the start of the first ever Big Bash League Twenty20 tournament. Where the Big Bash had consisted of the six State teams with an option of foreign guest players such as Dwayne Bravo and Chris Gayle, the Big Bash League will have eight teams, based in the capital cities of these states but with two each in Melbourne and Sydney.

    For example rather than Tasmania, there will be the Hobart Hurricanes (playing at ‘Blundstone Arena’ in another nod to the corporate world). These teams have been formed entirely by the minds of marketing men and administrators, and are privately owned.

    This notion of relaunching and reformatting to reinvigorate a sport is not new. Perhaps the broadest example is football’s A-League, which replaced the spluttering National Soccer League.

    In 2005, in an attempt to re-launch soccer as football, and to make a game which was considered the domain of ethnic agitators more inclusive, Melbourne was united behind Melbourne Victory, Sydney behind Sydney FC and so on. What we have seen is some dramatic growth and some moments where each team has at some point felt they have cracked it.

    But for each team, a decline in form and fortune has inevitably led to a decline in support, crowd numbers, and revenue. The loyalty simply does not exist to keep people coming back when the side aren’t winning. ‘Thick and thin’ cannot be created synthetically.

    The same could be said of Super Rugby. The Waratahs draw big crowds when they play an attractive and win, but when times are not so good, fifteen years has not produced enough faithful supporters to keep the atmosphere.

    I suspect the AFL may face the same problem with Greater Western Sydney and the Gold Coast Suns. Carlton fans will show up in large numbers regardless of their team’s place in the standings because generations before them have done so.

    The same can be said of all of the founding teams or those which have been added prior to the last thirty years. Even the Sydney Swans and Brisbane Lions have become increasingly solid. But whether the fans can sufficiently embrace two teams pulled out of thin air is another matter. The first season honeymoon cannot be relied upon for longer than that first year.

    The NRL has also tried, and did so by removing many established teams. Vale Newtown, North Sydney, Balmain, Western Suburbs, St George, Illawarra and very nearly South Sydney. Mergers do not count as retaining heritage.

    You ask a Balmain or Western Suburbs fan, many of them will tell you that the 2005 Premiership did not quite feel the same. Equally I doubt the Dragons’ 2010 triumph would be considered by many to be a crowning moment for rugby league on the South Coast.

    In exchange for these long established sides, we have seen a chase for new frontiers. Deleting half a dozen teams in the game’s cradle to let Melbournians have rugby league foisted upon them hardly seems reasonable. The Storm have seen extraordinary success in the last five years, but prior to and even at time during their illegal reign their crowds have struggled to pierce the 15,000 mark.

    The Gold Coast Titans’ crowd figures bowed to fickle realities as their team stuttered this season.

    Regardless of how they were going, there would always be a core of Balmain faithful. The governing body should have done far more to sustain these teams, rather than torching them to chase the money of the fly-by-nighters.

    The point is that you can’t just pull teams out of the ether and expect people to be loyal to them. Once traditional teams are extinguished or mashed together, they very rarely return (Manly is the exception here). With their extinction goes a game’s history, and much of its traditional following.

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    The Crowd Says (57)

    • December 19th 2011 @ 9:54am
      Matt F said | December 19th 2011 @ 9:54am | ! Report

      The haven’t axed the state teams. They still play Shield and Ryobi Cup games. There’s plenty of chances for these “loyal” fans to go and watch the Blues, Tigers, Redbacks etc. just as there always has been. The fact that they don’t, and didn’t either before or during the first few BBL seasons, would indicate that these fans were supporting the format rather then the state teams. The crowd figures for the new T20 teams compared to the State teams Ryobi Cup and SS crowds support this as well.

      • December 20th 2011 @ 12:44pm
        Cameron said | December 20th 2011 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

        I am a South Australian supporter and I would much prefer to go and watch South Australia win the Big Bash again, rather than seeing them being belted over and over again and finish last in the Shield. When I say this, I know that the Carols in Elder Park, Adelaide, were on at the same time as when the Adelaide Strikers played, but even so, the Redbacks would have been able to produce 16,000 plus people to their first home BBL game of the year, not 11,700 like the Strikers did on their first game of the year.

    • December 19th 2011 @ 10:09am
      Fake ex-AFL fan said | December 19th 2011 @ 10:09am | ! Report

      “But for each team, a decline in form and fortune has inevitably led to a decline in support, crowd numbers, and revenue. The loyalty simply does not exist to keep people coming back when the side aren’t winning. ‘Thick and thin’ cannot be created synthetically.”

      I was wondering, could you please identify one sporting team in Australia playing at the highest level for its sport where there isn’t a correlation between on field success and attendance. Just a single one where corwds stay the same even when the team is consistently losing.

      Good luck.

      • December 19th 2011 @ 10:27am
        Football United said | December 19th 2011 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        NSW origin ( i know it’s different but hey they keep coming back for another thumping!)

      • Roar Guru

        December 19th 2011 @ 10:27am
        The Cattery said | December 19th 2011 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        On the whole, it’s a fairly sound principle that crowds will be attracted to success and will fall off when teams are at the opposite end of the ladder.

        There is one team in Australian sport that has managed good attendaces over a 30 year period, despite being hopeless, useless, pathetic, almost sublimely so.

        I will leave it to the reader to guess who that team is – I do not wish to incur any fan’s wrath.

        • December 19th 2011 @ 10:43am
          Fake ex-AFL fan said | December 19th 2011 @ 10:43am | ! Report

          If you’re talking about the team whose name willl not be mentioned but plays in vertical black and white stripes, they still get better crowds in those years when the fans foolishly believe they have a chance of premiership glory, and worse crowds when the reality of their hopeless plight becomes clearer.

          • Roar Guru

            December 19th 2011 @ 11:16am
            The Cattery said | December 19th 2011 @ 11:16am | ! Report

            Heh, heh – actually, that was another 30 year period, the team I am thinking of refers to the last 30 seasons. 🙂

            • Roar Guru

              December 19th 2011 @ 1:48pm
              The_Wookie said | December 19th 2011 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

              tigers fans never learn do they

              • December 19th 2011 @ 6:24pm
                stabpass said | December 19th 2011 @ 6:24pm | ! Report

                i reckon you could add Freo to the Tigers, although they would be the little brother, they have a big contingent of fans backing up year after year, and continue to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

                Richmond fans are rusted on, and its possible with some good years could match Collingwood …. maybe !, they have a huge supporter base.

      • December 19th 2011 @ 10:37am
        Norman said | December 19th 2011 @ 10:37am | ! Report


    • December 19th 2011 @ 10:20am
      Chris said | December 19th 2011 @ 10:20am | ! Report

      “Australia’s increasingly fickle supporters”? Please provide some evidence for this statement.

      What everyone seems to forget in these sorts of debates is that Australia (and a city like Sydney in particular) is incredibly competitive from a professional sports perspective. Sydney teams competing in national comps include: all the Sydney-based NRL teams, the two (from next season) AFL teams, an A-League team, an NBL team, two BBL teams, a Sheffield Shield team and an ABL team. And that’s just the men! I’m sure I’ve missed a team or two along the way too. Show me a city anywhere else in the world where this level of competition exists.

      • December 19th 2011 @ 10:38am
        Fake ex-AFL fan said | December 19th 2011 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        Er, Melbourne?

        • December 19th 2011 @ 1:38pm
          Australian Rules said | December 19th 2011 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

          Yes that would be the one that first springs to mind Fake!…and there’s 2 A-League teams down there.

          I agree with some of the article but I think it’s a bit simplistic. The Storm have a very loyal following in Melb (largely because they ARE the under dog team in that city in terms of media coverage and support). However, they’re only 10 years old. That is very very young compared with clubs like Melb, Geelong & Carlton or Souths or Roosters (re-badged as they might be).

          Also, despite the earthquake that went thru that club after the salary cap scandal, the Storm are still averaging bigger crowds to their home games than the Cowboys, Se Eagles, Panthers, Raiders and Sharks. In my opinion, that’s pretty good for a new team which has been mired in controversy.

    • December 19th 2011 @ 11:05am
      Will Sinclair said | December 19th 2011 @ 11:05am | ! Report

      “The same could be said of Super Rugby. The Waratahs draw big crowds when they play an attractive and win, but when times are not so good, fifteen years has not produced enough faithful supporters to keep the atmosphere.”

      Whoa… fifteen years?

      The NSW Waratahs have been around since 1882!

      (There is a hint in the name – if they’d been dreamt up by some overpaid marketing guru they’d be the NSW Broncos, or Sydney White Sox, or Western Sydney Giants or something similarly stupid.)

    • December 19th 2011 @ 12:10pm
      Midfielder said | December 19th 2011 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

      Me thinks the article over states the case…

      If we go back to say the 40’s, 50’s & 60’s the sporting taste of the national was different… in the 40’s bike cycle racing was huge, as was the various table games like pool, tennis & cricket, boxing, speedway… the various football codes were no where near as generally popular then as they are now…

      What has happen is by understanding the need to change, the various football codes have all gone national and to do that required taking away the small clubs that were in truth not much more than a stones throw away…

      Of the sports from the 40’s, 50’s & 60’s .. only cricket and it has changed a lot still have a mass following…

      The football codes are now the main players in the sports media world meaning IMO the article misses the the why and because questions ….

    • December 19th 2011 @ 1:18pm
      Rabby said | December 19th 2011 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

      But neither can you ignore the march of progress. I would suggest that crowds of 10 to 15 thousand (23000 on 2 occasions this year) is not a bad performance for a ten year old club in a hostile AFL environment and with negligible media support. Contrary to what this article would have you believe, Melbourne’s average gates and membership beats many so called traditional Sydney Heritage based clubs that have been around for decades. Sure, you have to be very careful with expansion which is why I favour the tiered approach with a first and second NRL division but to say we shouldn’t try and satisfy demand coming from new areas is plain ludicrus

      • December 19th 2011 @ 1:38pm
        deucer said | December 19th 2011 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

        Rabby, considering they have been near the top for most of the time, I would consider it a bad performance and I don’t think you can class it in a hostile AFL environment like GWS in hostile RL environment, just indifferent.

        • December 19th 2011 @ 4:49pm
          JVGO said | December 19th 2011 @ 4:49pm | ! Report

          The media in Sydney is not hostile to the Giants. They are extremely accomodating. They get far more coverage than any Sydney NRL team and it is mostly positive.

          • December 19th 2011 @ 6:36pm
            stabpass said | December 19th 2011 @ 6:36pm | ! Report

            I think your posting, and attitude in general, is reflective of some the hostile Sydney RL media scrum, which is unlike anywhere else in this country.

            • December 19th 2011 @ 6:46pm
              JVGO said | December 19th 2011 @ 6:46pm | ! Report

              The Sydney press in general is not hostile toward GWS. The papers and TV news all give overwhelmingly positive coverage to the Giants and AFL in general, far more than they give to any NRL club.

              The RL press on the other hand is understandably hostile toward GWS but this may have something to do with the AFL provocatively buying RL stars, borrowing RL teams colours, pointedly targetting young islanders who have so far preferred the rugby codes and numerous other hostile actions and comments on their part.

              The Roar patently pedals the code war line as often as possible, but the Roar is a national site, and not a part of the Sydney specific media as I understand it and is at least as much playing to the AFL readers with all this.

              Seriously Stabpass if the Sydney press were anywhere near as hostile as you believe why would I ever feel the need to say anything, they would already be doing it for me.

              • December 19th 2011 @ 8:24pm
                stabpass said | December 19th 2011 @ 8:24pm | ! Report

                The Sydney papers, press, RL media, even Craig foster and some others from Sydney all push the code war line, and just guessing, but i reckon 90% of it comes out of Sydney, and this has been going on long before GWS existed.

                Sydney is generally all by itself as far as code war articles go, and your general posting is just proof of it, you say you are bemused, but from what i read, you are the angriest bemused person ever.

                It only sells papers in Sydney, because their is a sizable genuine fear of Australian Rules football.

          • December 20th 2011 @ 6:54am
            Tony said | December 20th 2011 @ 6:54am | ! Report

            You have to look hard to find anything about AFL in Sydney media, even in the footy season. Last week’s Sydney papers are a good example. JVGO is typical of many who do not believe AFL should get any publicity. Melbourne may be indifferent to NRL – but in Sydney it is a war. Very strange, but perhaps reflects Sydney’s attitude to sport & Melbourne?

            • Roar Guru

              December 20th 2011 @ 1:57pm
              Mark Young said | December 20th 2011 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

              Tony with respect there is a lot of AFL in the Sydney Media.
              the SMH has a two page spread every monday plus a story on pretty much every other day,
              the Sunday Papers both have a large chunk of AFL.

              Both TV berakfast programs lead every sports bulletin with AFL, even the one which shows the NRL.

              The newpapers are smart enough to realise that there are AFL fans in Sydney.

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