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Sunday, July 25, 2004

NRL Expansion 

Sticking with league tonight.  I'm sure most sporty heads out there have heard whispers that the NRL is considering three expansion bids for the 2006 season.

Now the word on the street recently has been that they will not accept any new teams into the league and will look again at the possibility in 2006.  Citing financial reasons and also playing strength as barriers to expansion at the moment.

However there have been much smaller whispers in the last week or so that there may be another outcome of all this thinking going on at HQ which I believe may well happen.  Especially given that a decision was supposed to have been made in early to mid May but was then put off until late July which is nearing an end without many hints [and I now hear mid august being mentioned].  If there really was going to be no expansion or changes made then surely something would have been said by now.

So then drum roll please for my idle speculation.....

The Melbourne Storm will be relocated to the Gold Coast (one of the three bidders).  The reason being that they have very poor home crowds.  Despite sitting pretty in 5th spot and boasting the best attack in the league with almost 30 points averaged a game they are attracting the worst crowds in the league at just 8,638 per game.  That's around 1,000 less than the Rabbitohs (known for having small crowds), 2,000 less than the Warriors this season (and we know how bad their crowds have been) and 3,000 less than the Sea Eagles who haven't been much to write about on the field this year.

People will argue that it would be bad for the regional expansion of the game but after several years in the city and by and large very good results by any standards - any especially considering they are a non-rugby league area historically - the crowds are woeful and really not up to scratch in a league which is averaging 14,500+ a game this season.  How long can those at HQ sit on their hands and let a team play before largely empty stands despite producing good results?  I'd say that even if they escape for the time being that if they don't get those crowds up and up in a big way then they will be shuffled off to the Gold Coast a few years from now.

By comparison North Queensland sit a few spots below the Storm on the ladder and have a much smaller population base in Townsville than down in Melbourne yet they average a sizeable 16,157 per game this season.

The reason why I suggest they would relocate to the Gold Coast rather than the Central Coast is that the latter would play in Gosford where 20% of Express Advocate Stadium is owned by North Sydney Leagues Club and any team there would have to be called the Central Coast Bears (for legal reasons).  This basically shuts out the possibilty of any relocations by current teams.

I reckon that the Wellington bid is also a very outside chance of being accepted but if it isn't don't be surprised to see them running around in the NRL in 2010 if not earlier.  The main worry is ... will they get 10,000+ week after week regardless of how they are travelling?  Which is really the minimum that the league should be accepting given the growing popularity of the league in recent years.  Mediocrity should not be accepted. 

Looking back at a couple of teams from that general area who played in the NRL in the 1990s...

South Queensland had a team which averaged a very good 13,386 people per game (although they were losing support with 21,029 in 1995, 13,016 in 1996 and 7,003 in 1997).  They finished dead last in the NRL half of the competition in 1997 when the Super League had set up it's rival competition.  People knew that the two sides were making peace and that the Crushers wouldn't be involved in any new competition so they unsurprisingly abandoned them in their final year. 

Gold Coast averaged 7,272 per game which is pretty awful though they did under achieve quite a lot and the population in the area is growing rapidly and the profile of the game has also risen enough to suggest that they could get that over the 10,000 mark week in and week out.  Given that they averaged 5-7,000 from their first season in 1988 to their last in 1997 I would say that they are probably the weakest of the three bids though in terms of bums on seats.

The Central Coast bid looks like it is probably the strongest given the backing by a rich geezer who has said he will fund them out of his own pocket even if they have shortfalls and they don't need any money from the NRL (new teams get 2.5 mill from the league). 

This season they hosted a pre season game between the Tigers and the Rabbitohs I think which drew a little over 10,000 and they drew the same figure for the round 15 clash which the Bulldogs played against the Raiders so they have a little more ammo for their bid there as well.

While the Wellington bid would probably draw decent crowds with folks from up the Hutt Valley and Wainuiomata driving down every weekend.  And of course the latte sipping brigade from just down the road coming along when the team is doing well or fashionable at least.  Of course Helen Clark (being a Mt Albert Lions (bastards) fan from way back) would probably pop down now and again as well.

Actually thinking about the weather down in Wellington for the recent rugby test perhaps the Wellington Storm wouldn't be such a bad sounding name either!

My dirty money is on the Central Coast bid to be accepted this year with the team entering the comp possibly in 2005.  Then in 2006 or 7 the Storm will be shuffled off to the Gold Coast and then in 2008 the Wellington team (Southern Orcas) will be accepted into the competition.

And ahhh stay tuned for my playoff frame analysis in the next day or two.  It's been written, just waiting for the right time to shove it down the pipe.  And if you are wondering howcome I've written so much in one day it's because I bought a couple of bottles of cheap French wine (trust me at the supermarket I went to there was nothing but cheap wine) and my fiance got hammered on it.  This has mean't any possibility of leaving the apartment was dealt a severe blow.  And here was me wanting to head down to Suwon WC Stadium to watch some Korean soccer.  Never mind, still 20 games left in the season.


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