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Round 1 of the 2015 NRL draw has been leaked, and with Penrith set to play a blockbuster clash against rivals the Bulldogs on a March afternoon, Panthers fans are asking why?
Why play a day-time game in the March heat of Sydney’s west?
The question is a long-standing one, as year after year the NRL ignores the simple fact that Penrith is among the hottest NRL venues in March.
When comparing the attendance patterns of Sydney clubs’ fans to home game for day, evening and night games from 2001 to 2014, it is clear that the NRL has much to gain by reallocating day games to teams who play in coastal regions, rather than those who play in the heat of Sydney’s greater west.
In 2013, Penrith were allocated three of their opening four games playing at Penrith and Campbelltown during the day in March. Both grounds are poor for providing relief for fans against the heat and as a result crowds suffered.
Again in 2014, Penrith was allocated two Saturday afternoon games and two Saturday evening games, three of those played in Sydney’s west in the heat of March which adversely affected crowds, even against traditional crowd pullers Canterbury and Parramatta.
Why is this issue important? Last year Phil Rothfield took great pleasure in criticising Penrith’s crowds without doing much homework apart from stating the crowd results. One of the major factors was scheduling. These day matches, coupled with more Monday night football than any other NRL club, and the lack of Sydney-based teams playing at Sportingbet compared to their rivals, made it exceedingly difficult for the club to increase crowds.
The key facts (2001-14)
Penrith has played more daytime home games in March (12 from 24) than any other Sydney club – compare it to other Western Sydney clubs such as Parramatta (3 from 26), Wests Tigers (7 from 22) and Canterbury (10 from 25).
Those 10 Canterbury day time home games however include Good Friday blockbusters that take place in March, which at the cooler Homebush have been a resounding success
Penrith has played the least number of nighttime home games in March (7 from 24), while Western Sydney rivals Parramatta (19 from 26), Wests Tigers (12 from 22) and Canterbury (14 from 25) have had significantly more access to this time slot.
Canterbury (due to the Good Friday effect) plus coastal teams Manly, St George and Cronulla all average their best crowds during day games. The cooler conditions by the ocean provide a more appealing setting to attend a March daytime game. Sydney and Souths fare better at night on the back of high-end blockbuster clashes between one another to start the season.
It’s no surprise to see Penrith, Parramatta and Wests achieve their best average crowds in March when the game is played at night.
Penrith’s daytime March home games are the lowest in Sydney, averaging over 3,000 fewer than nighttime March home games. Based on conservative numbers – $30 per person spent on tickets, food and beverages, and an average of two home games in March – such decision-making from the NRL could likely cost the club $120K per game ($240K in one month alone). It’s not hard to see why clubs like Penrith are forced to sell off home games.
In 2015, will the advent of live Sunday afternoon coverage on Channel Nine have an adverse impact on crowds at venues likes Penrith during March? Are fans likely to vote with their remotes and stay at home in the comfort of their air-conditioned family rooms rather than bake on the eastern terraces of Sportingbet Stadium?
Last year the Gold Coast complained of Sunday afternoon temperatures so the NRL gave them a Saturday evening home game. Does their form, membership or average TV audience warrant this action? Probably not.
Instead it’s about time Sydney’s west and in particular a club on the rise both on and off the field in Penrith get a better deal from the NRL.
My fingers are crossed that Round 1 is an aberration in what will be a vastly improved draw for Penrith, and an opportunity for its fan-base to attend games in the time slots that have proven to be successful for the club in the past.
But if history is a guide, Penrith fans will be dudded yet again, while teams like Manly, Cronulla and St George – whose fans have a preference for daytime footy in March when given the opportunity – will again take away night spots that would surely be better suited to Sydney’s weather hotspot.