In recent years, the NRL has struggled for crowds, a trend that has been continuing throughout the 2015 season. Although TV viewership has remained steady this year, live crowds have been dwindling even further.
The NRL has to think about what would influence the average supporter to leave the comforts of his or her lounge and pay extra to watch it from a stadium. It’s time consuming and expensive to watch live sport. The games don’t start on time, the weather isn’t always particularly pleasant, parking is expensive, food is expensive and you don’t have as good a view.
Suggestions have been floating in the media such as moving Monday night football to the bush, but that isn’t the answer. Growing up in the bush I would have loved to see a team play in my town but that doesn’t help the fact the Sydney is becoming disenchanted by live rugby league.
The two key problems that have led to poor crowd attendances are clubs moving out of their traditional stadiums and the kick off times are made for broadcasting, not for live viewing.
Football cannot be played on Monday night if the NRL wants any crowd at all. The timeslot is made for someone who has come home from work and wants to relax after dinner before heading to bed. To go to the match, watch it and travel home and be ready for work again on Tuesday is not an option the average person will take. The biggest crowd on a Monday night this season was 16,764 at Belmore between the Bulldogs and the Storm. The fact that game was the first NRL match at Belmore since 1998 has a lot to do with that figure. Having the Monday night game on a Sunday afternoon is a better timeslot that encourages families to get involved in the game.
Having the majority of games at the smaller home grounds such as Belmore, Leichhardt, Brookvale and Parramatta Stadium(all of which have ground capacities over 20,000) to name a few helps dispel the confusion that sharing ANZ stadium has created. A number of teams sharing a stadium has broken down the traditional borders of the rugby teams and has taken the club away from the communities they represent. Therefore, the traditional derbies are not being played in either side’s suburb and the rivalries have weakened. The only real rivalry left in Australian rugby league is between New South Wales and Queensland. Playing more games in the heartland of each club will reignite those rivalries. Giving supporters the chance to be part of a capacity crowd increases the likelihood that they will watch live football because it can give them something a match that is on TV can’t.
While it’s great seeing the initiative the NRL takes in ensuring that there are games in the bush, the clubs need to consolidate their own territory and capture the imagination of their own supporters before expansion is attempted. The NRL does provide trial matches, City v Country and the indigenous All Stars to country towns. Country rugby league won’t have to be deprived in the process.