The NRL has long had a fixtures issue.
It used to be the dreaded Monday night slot. Sure, it rated well for Fox, but it was a massive drain on the poor club that had to host the match, because people aren’t turning up to the footy on the first day of the working week.
It would seem they shifted the problem to Thursday, but that particular game is actually a decent drawcard – as evidenced by the 13,127 who turned up to Leichhardt this week to watch the Tigers get one over on the hapless Cowboys.
Obviously I’m without any scientific evidence, but Thursday night has a bit of a weekendish vibe about it. If Garfield taught us nothing else, Mondays are rough, whereas when you hit Thursday, you’re almost done for another week and so are far more amenable to the prospect of braving the traffic and perhaps turning up to work the next day a little bit dusty (‘little’ being the operative word, given the mid-strength swill they charge through the nose for at an NRL game these days).
So no, Thursday’s not the problem.
Strangely enough, the issue hits on the actual weekend.
That first Friday game is a total bastard. A real piece of work, that fixture.
Honestly, who was the genius who thought, “You know the best time to play some footy? Half an hour after everyone has finished work. Yeah, that’ll get those turnstiles swinging.”
It sucks. And I know this because for the last three weeks on the trot, it’s the fixture my team have been stuck with.
By the time this year’s done, the Knights will have played eight games – essentially a third of their season – in the dreaded 6pm Friday night timeslot.
And this week, Todd Greenberg had the audacity to say that it’s a popular fixture in places like Newcastle, because the traffic isn’t so bad.
I mean, sure, getting from the East End to Marathon Stadium is approximately a thousand times easier and more pleasant than a Souths fan having to hike from Redfern to Homebush. But 6pm is still half an hour after most people have knocked off, which means even if traffic is favourable, you’re probably not going to make it in time for kick off.
Chuck in the queues to buy a ticket and one of the aforementioned plastic cups of mid-strength suds and by the time you’ve found your seat, the Knights are already 12-0 down. (I mean, no, it’s not like I wanted to see the opposition scoring on my boys, but it’s not really the point.)
Does the NRL genuinely believe that they’re within their rights to charge the better part of $30 to see some of a game of footy?
On Friday night, the people of Newcastle voted with their feet, as just 14,801 folk turned up to see the Knights go down to the Panthers.
Now, it was a blustery evening – Winter is coming – so the weather was a factor, but I daresay so was the fact it was the third week in a row that people had to make a mad dash after work if they wanted to see the game.
And sure, there were more people at the Newcastle game than showed up to Leichhardt for their last-ever chance to see Johnathan Thurston grace the historic ground (on that count, you Tigers lot are pissweak), but last year, when we took out our third successive wooden spoon, the Knights’ crowd average was 15,619.
Newcastle’s greatest asset is also its curse – the fans in this town are the best in the NRL.
Now, I’ve been to Anfield, the Bernabéu and Yankee Stadium, so I’m not going to pretend we’re anything on the world’s actual great fans, but Knights supporters turn up through thick and thin, as evidenced by the consistently healthy turnout over the past three, totally shithouse years.
And it’s been made blatantly clear that these rusted-on types are the reason the NRL are happy to lump us with – as The Roar’s mad genius, Tim Gore, worked out mathematically – the third-worst draw in the competition.
Anyway, whinge done, let’s do something about it.
I have a remarkably fair and easy way for the NRL to stop lumping certain teams with crappy fixtures and others – looking at you, Roosters and Broncos – with all the primetime slots.
How about an adjustment of the annual grant?
Each year, all the clubs receive around $12 million from the NRL, which is fair. But then the NRL dishes up a draw which sees some clubs given a distinct advantage at the negotiating table with sponsors.
If Brisbane CEO Paul White wants to ask NRMA for more money, he can simply point out what amazing exposure the insurance company gets by having their logo on a jersey consistently seen primetime on Thursday and Friday nights.
As for Newcastle boss Phil Gardner, he has go to NIB and ask for a few extra bucks with his only chip being that their CEO’s son plays first grade.
(That’s not a go at Lachlan Fitzgibbon either, he’s a gun and will absolutely be the subject of a lengthy, gushing column in the coming weeks.)
Sponsoring a footy club isn’t about doing the right thing by the community, it’s about making money. A company’s logo on national TV, being seen by millions, is a huge part of how footy clubs make their money.
So if the NRL are kind enough to give one or two clubs the massive financial advantage of playing large portions of their season in primetime – when people can make it to either the venue or the pub with time to spare – while other clubs are slapped with a shitty draw, the latter deserve to be compensated.
I can’t say for sure, but if the Knights had played the 8pm game on Friday night, I’d say another 3000 people would have been there – that’s 80 grand in tickets, to say nothing of how much better the exposure for sponsors is by being on free-to-air TV.
Say the NRL had to actually pay clubs $150,000 for playing on the early Friday game as compensation for the smaller crowds and TV audience. That’d be an extra $1.2 million in the coffers here in the Hunter. Granted, we can’t seem to spend the full salary cap as is, but I’m sure the club could find good use for an extra mill or so.
But, more importantly, over the course of a 25-round season, the NRL would have to dish up $7,500,000 in grants to the clubs they screw over by making them play in a crap timeslot that people don’t attend.
Money talks, and I’d say after a year off footing that bill in an effort to make the game financially equitable, someone at NRL HQ would finally come up with a great solution to the fixtures issue.