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Monday, June 02, 2008

NRL Needs A Short Back and Sides 

As usual the mid season discussions about how to fix the NRL for the future have begun with all sorts of answers thrown up ranging from shortening the season, cutting teams, relocating them, cutting the salary cap and just plain old blaming others (NSW for their 40% tax on the pokies).

It seems fairly obvious though that Sydney needs less teams. They can talk traditional they like but this is professional sport. Is there a ground more steeped in tradtition in American sport than Yankee Stadium? Well look what they did there.

People can talk about the game being nothing without traditions, it's old clubs, it's old rivalries and all that but at the end of the day if you have too many teams, too many perennially unsuccessful teams, too many teams that don't have a real home ground, and too many teams struggling to remain solvent then you have to face facts.

Gallup came out and said they may need to cut the salary cap from 4 million per club to 3.5. This was met with scorn from people like Willie Mason and Andrew Johns who said "I'd hate to think in 10 years' time we are nothing more than a feeder competition for Super League or rugby union,". Well the problem there is that if they stay with things the way they are they WILL be exactly that. Australian rugby has 4 fully professional teams (though the Western Force are in their own financial poo hole) while there are 16 in the NRL. Of course they are going to have the bank balance to be able to poach players now and then. The Aussie rugby teams averaged 20,191 spectators per match in 2008 for the Super 14, although of course it is easier to attract that for 6 or 7 home games as opposed to 12. If you cut the NRL down to 12-14 teams (John Cartwright suggested 12 teams with Sydney divided into 4 zones) then you cut out a few of the guys running round now who aren't that flash and increase crowds and presumably revenue and that's what can lead to players salaries going up.

Sydney has nine clubs which is probably at least 3 too many. I'm not saying cull the lot by any means but given the financial predicament of many of them and the fact that several don't have their traditional home fields it simply isn't sustainable long term and will only serve to hold the game back. Imagine if they had never expanded to bring in the Broncos, or Cowboys, or Storm, or Raiders, or Warriors, or Knights, or Titans. Hardly 'traditional teams' but all have brought some real colour and in some cases real results to the competition with in the last 18 years (excluding 1997) 15 grand final appearances and 12 premiership titles.

The home grounds is a major issue also. Souths are playing at Stadium Australia and have an agreement to play two games a year in Perth from 2009 and are also playing in Adelaide next year. This year they have been to Bluetongue Stadium on the central coast (home of the central coast mariners) for a home match as well. The NRL have in fact offered 8 million bucks to any Sydney based team to relocate there. The Sea Eagles also had a sneak peak with a match there themselves a few weeks ago.

But for homeless check out the Tigers home games. Round 1 - Sydney Footbal Stadium, Round 4 - Campbelltown, Round 6 - S.C.G, Round 8 - Stadium Australia, Round 11 - Leichhardt.

That's 5 home games for them so far this year and 5 different venues. That's fucken ridiculous. Imagine trying to be a fan of them. Imagine being a Warriors fan and they play at North Harbour Stadium, Eden Park, Mt Smart, Waitakere Stadium and Waikato Stadium 5 home games in a row.

The biggest problem is that assuming there are big changes what form do they take? Do existing teams get relocated like in the US so say the Rabbitohs become the Perth Rabbitohs or do clubs simply merge like St George-Illawarra with Souths?

I've thought about it a bit and I don't really have a clue in a large part because I've never been to Sydney so only have a sketchy view on how close teams and grounds are to each other and the plausibility of merges etc.

But here's a few thrown out there...
West Tigers and Panthers merge and split games between two grounds (both upgraded)
Souths relocate to the Central Coast
Dragons and Sharks merge and pick the best ground and dump some money into it
Sea Eagles stay as they are but increase capacity and quality of Brookvale
Eels stay as they are and where they are
Bulldogs stay as they are but look to uprgade Belmore or burn it down and move permanently to Stadium Australia
Roosters stay as they are and where they are at the Sydney Football Stadium

That would leave 14 teams. I would then look to introduce one in Wellington and one in either Adelaide or Perth depending on where would get better crowds. Adelaide actually got decent crowds for a while when it had a team but turned to shit when they were on their way out.

On the crowds, they have been OK this year averaging 16,989 but they are as usual decreasing most weeks due to the length of the season. They always start strongly and then fall away drastically before picking up again towards the end as the supporters try to bring their team into the playoffs or a top 4 spot.

The record crowd average was in 2005 with 16,468 (don't be fooled, this years will come in a fair way short once 26 rounds are completed), while it then went to 15,600 in 2006, 15,750 in 2007. Given they brought in the Gold Coast Titans two seasons ago and they are averaging over 20,000 each season it points to some disturbing drops elsewhere. The Broncos are also responsible for adding a thousand onto the average. The Warriors have had poor crowds in recent years with thus far in 2008 the worst average of any team at 12,392. The fans want style and substance and recently have had neither.



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