The Roar
The Roar


To make more of grand final week, the NRL must start internationally

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1st October, 2019

We all know how commercially voracious the National Rugby League has become.

Basically, they don’t appear to like anyone else making money off things they consider to be their IP – even if, as an example, it’s England and New Zealand playing in America on a weekend where there are no club games.

When the NRL Nines returns next year, there will be no middle man – AKA Duco Events – involved.

They have the staff and resources to keep everything in-house and that’s where the want the money to stay.

WatchNRL is an app for people living overseas who want to see games. It’s pretty nifty; you can hook it up to your TV, you get a lot of Fox League magazine shows and matches on demand.

But people in developing league nations, particularly in the countries where people can’t afford the subscriptions, don’t like it because it preaches to the converted. There is now an incentive to keep the game off traditional television overseas.

If you don’t know what rugby league is, you’re not going to stumble across it if the NRL is restricted to an app and all videos on YouTube are being taken down by the league’s lawyers.

But in grand final week, I can see opportunities that aren’t being exploited.

I’m still not sure where I’ll be watching the big one on Sunday but at this stage, the most likely venue is Belushi’s in Camden, London. They show all the big NRL and Origin games but the league doesn’t get a piece of the action.


There’s no reason why they can’t. There’s no reason why memberships and merch can’t be sold at these things, no reason why former first graders who live in London such as Tony Rea, Greg Barwick and Mark Ioane can’t be co-opted into hosting these things.

And no reason why that formula can’t be duplicated all over the country.

In America, there is a company called FanWide. They organise watch parties in bars across the US; if you’re a Buffalo Bills fan living in Atlanta and the Bills are playing San Francisco, they have a matrix which will organise a party for Bulls and 49ers supporters in Atlanta.

The bar pays FanWide for the business but, importantly, FanWide will work with the clubs to leverage the events.

The 49ers’ and Bills’ sponsors can access these watch parties with signage and samples, there are merch giveaways and people volunteer their contact details to be added to the clubs’ databases.


FanWide are contemplating expansion into Canada and Australia.

I’ve been saying for years now that if Telstra was an international company, there would be an incentive to send Justin Olam to Papua New Guinea, Maika Sivo to Fiji, perhaps Northern Pride’s Joe Eichner to the States, and definitely a Burgess to England in grand final week to promote the sport and the coverage on the talk show circuit.

The other night at a function at Australia House here in London, I met a young fellow called Angus who was working at AFL Europe.

How can the AFL have an office in the country where rugby league was born and the NRL does not?

Just about every day here, I see someone in a piece of NRL merchandise.

There is definitely more rugby league gear on display at my local gym here in South London than Premier League march – even though this is a city where the local Super League team struggles to attract more than 2000.

As promoters of an RLIF property, the World Cup Nines, the NRL is trying to get people through the gate in Sydney but awareness of the tournaments in the competing countries is low.

In grand final week, it’s important to remind ourselves that pulling up the draw bridge on your properties and IP is a sound approach only if you’re willing to foot the bill of promoting them yourself.


Otherwise you’re just keeping your business, your sport, a secret from the wider world.