When the NRL announced it had sold the free-to-air TV rights from 2018 onwards for a staggering $1 billion it was seen as a massive coup for the game. Whether the game got enough money, how the deal was done, and comparisons to the AFL need to be put aside as the nature of the deal no doubt is favourable for the fans.
It means that from 2018 any NRL fan with a TV set will be able to access half a round of football free of charge from their living room. If your team isn’t lucky enough to jag a 50-50 chance of being on Channel Nine for most it will mean the prospect of a pilgrimage to the pub to watch it in glorious HD on Foxtel.
The third and final option will be to actually get in the car, train, bus, cab or bicycle and actually attend the ground.
While the TV deal is a great win it can be said that it signals what we all knew anyway – that what happens on TV remains more important to the NRL than the fans at the ground. It makes it a sad story in many ways. From 2018 it will be even harder for clubs to attract members and fans as the access to the game on TV is just so high.
If you do want to go to a game it will cost you a minimum of $20 for an adult and sometimes more. This is reasonable when you consider the cost of other activities such as the movies, the zoo, paintball etc. However, then you have to think about the transport, petrol, train ticket and cab fare.
Once you arrive at the ground you then have to think about food and drink. Beers at State of Origin go for $7.50 for a mid-strength and it’s normally deliciously warm and flat. A questionable hotdog will cost you a similar amount. Merchandise is a whole different ball-game.
Add it all up and it costs plenty. Think about how much it costs to watch at your local bowling club, pub or living room.
Then there is everything else. Monday and Thursday night timeslots, school nights. Cold, wet evenings. Hot afternoons. Crammed onto trains like sardines to get to ANZ Stadium. Spending more time watching the big screen than the field because your so far away you need Rabs’ binoculars.
Having to get up to go to the toilet every 10 minutes because you’ve had so much mid-strength beer. Not being able to bring certain food in because it’s “stadium policy”. Having to sit through 10 video ref referrals each game.
Having about as much leg room as in the back of a Barina. Getting berated by someone for standing up to support your team. Spending $100 for ordinary tickets to State of Origin and being thanked with pre-match entertainment by Shannon Noll.
There are too many reasons at the moment for fans not to go, and with more games free you can chuck another in there too. The new stadium policy is also likely to affect diehards as they are forced to move away from spiritual homes into concrete jungles for the sake of corporates who may pay the bills but certainly do not make the sport what it is.
Put it simply there are just too many reasons for the impartial fans to stay at home.
I attended two games during Round 26. One in a good seat undercover, the other general admission at Allianz Stadium. Despite all the reasons above I still love going, nothing will ever change that. I love the atmosphere, the stories, the fans, the friends. There is something about it that captivates me and makes me want to go but is in spite of all the reasons that the NRL creates not to go.
The NRL needs to give the impartial fans a reason to go to a solitary game over the round, their team’s game.
They need to convince those who do not live and die by rugby league that at least it is a fun, affordable, worthwhile day out with family, friends, mates or colleagues.
They need to look after those who turn up every week regardless of the score or the situation and invest in their club. They need to know they are loved.
It is a hard ask. It is a money driven business and clubs are already struggling. But as the money flows in from this new deal, as well as increased revenue from the new stadiums, there needs to be more invested in the game-day fan.
Their are a billion reasons not to go, the NRL needs to give the fans a few more reasons why they should, because the game is won or lost at the ground, not in your living room.