The current plight facing professional sports poses many questions.
However, the one with the highest priority for fans is: will my club survive? For fans of the National Rugby League, the answer may not be a happy one. In fact, losing a team is rugby league’s greatest fear.
The NRL does not have the financial resources to bail out any club that falls over. They have tried to support the clubs until November, but it may not be enough, especially if the shutdown continues for longer than expected. Obviously, the NRL is not alone with this issue. Sports around the world are facing financial shortfalls.
Rugby union in Australia looks like it might fall into an incredible black hole that may see the sport suffer insolvency.
Meanwhile, the Australian Football League resorted to taking a bank loan to get through the troubles. However, the AFL had a sound economic footing with assets that allowed this to take place. Their aim is to have 18 teams once this shocking event concludes, but even still, fans are questioning the worth of the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney Giants and inquiring about the possible relocation of a Melbourne team to Tasmania.
The point is no sport is immune to the possibility of a reduction of their professional franchises. Unfortunately for the NRL, they require 16 teams to maintain their value. Also, there is still enough memory in the game to recognise the undeniable truth: you get rid of clubs, you get rid of fans.
The Super League War provided a harsh lesson for the code. South Sydney fans rebelled and came through victorious, but there are still North Sydney fans that struggle to watch a game they use to enjoy. Their passion has been tampered by the fact they do not have a team to support, love and cherish. This has an effect. Losing the Bears meant losing a generation of fans.
Fair enough, the Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra mergers present a different viewpoint. However, there are still some Tigers and Magpies fans that did not take to the joint venture. It definitely took the media years before they stopped referring to the Wests Tigers as Balmain.
The reality of losing a team goes far beyond an economic downturn. Supporting a team that no longer competes is an empty feeling. I still vividly remember the two seasons (2000 and 2001) when South Sydney did not compete. Did my interest in the sport drop? Absolutely!
Furthermore, I have found it concerning to hear or read about people calling for clubs to be axed in such times to save others. The New Zealand Warriors cater to the Kiwi market, North Queensland cater to anyone north of the Capricorn Highway, while Gold Coast, Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra and Newcastle are all one-city teams. We can not and must not lose them. Moreover, the St George Illawarra Dragons cater to an entire region (the Illawarra and South Coast) in New South Wales. So that leaves the Sydney clubs.
This is where people start to get a little agitated and rightly so. Therefore, I go back to the North Sydney Bears point. When the Bears were not included post-2000, interest in their district for the sport of rugby league declined. The neutrals may call for a Souths and East merger, despite the fact that the two clubs hate each other. As a Souths fan I would never entertain supporting such a team, nor would Roosters fans.
Yes, I could jokingly say that out of all the Sydney teams the Roosters should be the one to go. Apart from a wealthy backer, who cares, right? Yet this neglect would be ignoring the history of the club, ignoring the fact that it is an extremely professional organisation. Personally, I like the rivalry they add to the Bunnies – they are my Manly, the team I love to hate.
Unfortunately, the choice is out of the control of fans. Any club in the coming year may not make it to the 2021 season. I pray that it is not South Sydney, though money will be the determining factor. All I can say, as a fan who did not have a team to support for two seasons, or for the Bears fans that I know, not having a team to follow is brutal.
I do not wish the experience on anybody.