Following a comeback draw against Penrith, Newcastle have got three massive games in succession to play.
The NRL may never recover from COVID-19.
The game has changed, as all sports have, due to money. It’s now a product, and the fans are now consumers.
However, rugby league fans aren’t consumers, we are fans. The difference needs to be understood. I know people who supported the Newtown Jets. They still follow rugby league but aren’t invested in the game as they used to be.
They are a fan of the game, not a consumer. They don’t pay for Foxtel because they have no emotional interest. They don’t go to games because their team isn’t playing. They don’t buy merchandise. They aren’t consumers. If there is nothing else to do, they will sit down and watch a game between two quality teams, but will turn it off if the so-called product isn’t high standard.
Many of these people are workers with work now. They are taking the pay cut, not because they can’t produce at work but because they are forced to. Rugby league was built on the blue-collar worker. So when they see a high-profile player saying that the players shouldn’t wear the cost of the current situation, it doesn’t sit well with the fans.
That is the disconnect from fans that will kill the game.
What about the local barista? They produce the product, but they can longer work.
What about the chef at your favourite restaurant? They can no longer work.
What about business owners who poured millions of dollars into new ventures that got shut down overnight? They can no longer make money.
The players should consider the people lining up for either Job Seeker or Job Keeper payments. Both payments are generous form the government, but for many are way below their normal wage. It’s not that they can’t produce a product, but the market has dried up.
Ricky Stuart and Cam Smith have been voices of reason in this saga. Ricky Stuart highlighted that players have benefited from the game and should be grateful. Perhaps the players may go back to working for a bricklayer during the week and playing on the weekend. Maybe that would bring the fans back. Hopefully, it would save the game.
The idea of going into a bubble and resume playing seems to a desperate ploy by the NRL to save themselves. The players agreeing to it says that they want to protect their income. The fans, and I could be wrong, are very cynical of these ideas.
People are disconnected from loved ones with police enforcement. How could a game of rugby league, played in empty stadiums, be of benefit to the game at the moment? No one has the money to a consumer. Even the most rusted-on fan would question the wisdom of trying to start the season while everyone else is isolated. The mental health of players and staff would be questioned as well.
The Super League war proved one thing: there is money to be made in rugby league. Even if the NRL folded, someone else would pick the game up. Don’t drop the fans along the way.