Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Blueprint to Fix the NRL

Recently some experts have added their thoughts on how to reduce the impacts on the players for Origin. Wayne Bennett and Des Hasler have added discussion, and as always Phil Gould leads the way. All of what has been said by these passionate league men have merit, with the importance of starting the discussion and influence.

I am  concerned about where we sit with rugby league at the elite level and I have been compelled to again shake off to share my blueprint of what we need to do. The final straw was my walk on the treadmill Tuesday afternoon, watching a replay of the Titans v Storm game with empty stands being the overwhelming feature. And honestly, I'm sick of seeing this great game played out to empty stadiums with only the diehard fans present.

The other reason we need to fix the game, is the brutal dynamics that now make up State of Origin. Game 1 was honestly the most brutal game I can remember seeing with two fearless teams colliding with force for 80 minutes. And having a league that creates the situation where they back up shortly after such a game defies logic and is borderline breaching our "duty of care" for the players.

At the heart of the matter is this. We have 16 teams that play 24 games over a 26 period (2 byes) from February until early September and the finals take us into early October, interspersed with representative fixtures and a brutal 9 weeks of Origin.
Let's compare what we ask our players to do, with other major sports.
  • The NBA Season is 82 games long from Late October till Mid-April. Playoffs take the Season out to mid-end June
  • The NFL play 16 regular season game from late August to early January. The Super Bowl is played early February.
  • The English Premier Season runs from August to May and each team plays 38 games. On top of this is the FA Cup Knockout and the European Champions League.
  • The AFL has 18 clubs and plays a season of 23 rounds with each club getting one bye.
  • Australian Rugby Union play 19 games and the elite play a series of Test Matches every year.
Comparing us to the other similar body contact sports, we tax our players and fans incredibly. We have built a model of our game that supplies too much product for the demand that we have, and we have face the following issues because of it.
  • The majority of our fans are apathetic and our crowds suffer because of it
  • Our fans suffer severe let-down during the season when Origin forces teams to field second rate teams
  • The season starts with enthusiastic embrace, but as the season lingers many fans simply turn off. We have real "Fan Fatigue" It's hard to maintain enthusiasm for a team for the length of time we ask them to do.
  • Our players are simply overworked. AND OUR GREATEST ASSET
  • Not enough blockbuster games.
  • Our jewel in the crown, State of Origin is spread over a nine week period which impacts fans and clubs alike.
Our game in it's current format is unsustainable. Additional, to this we have
  • Clubs facing financial pressures
  • Clubs reluctant to lose home games due to impacts on revenue
  • Our grassroots game continues to struggle
So what is a possible solution? My proposal is simple as it brings a simple economic model to bear and  additionally improves the areas that need to be improved.
  • Increase the clubs to 18. I am not here to discuss where this occurs, but we are heavily over-represented in Sydney and need to add new markets to our game
  • Each team plays each other ONCE. A 17 game season.
  • Each team plays 8 home games, 8 away games and one game in a country area every year.
  • As clubs will see a reduction of home games, they MUST get their preferred time schedule for at least 50% of their games.(This will obviously mean a revamp of any broadcasting deal) 
  • The State of Origin series is played over a 3 week period. Over this period, the NRL is suspended and other representative games may be played eg Pacific Island tests, Country v City.
  • Our finals series is also something we could re-engineer to add some real impact to it with a true knockout format. I only say this, as early playoff crowds have been poor at times and adding impact through the potential of a knockout must add numbers to the crowd.
  • The NRL must control everything. When you watch NBA or NFL the microphones are branded to the code, not to the broadcaster.
So what will this do? By limiting supply, we increase demand for the public to attend. We increase the appeal of EVERY game, while reducing match day costs for the clubs. Each club must look at each game as  potential blockbusters and market accordingly. Supporters understand they have a reduced number of games to attend, increasing their potential to attend.

The grassroots get an injection through the clubs taking games to the masses. Our State of Origin gets the showcase it deserves, and the other representative games get a new level of exposure. While the season is in hiatus, the clubs can nurse injuries, run fan days, do community days and refocus as needed. After all, it's only three weeks. We lighten the load on all players.

Yes, I know many will see this as absurd. Many will see it as unworkable. Many will see it as unnecessary.

I believe it is vital for the future of our game and our players.

Where do you see our great game in five years time?

Tony Curl.

@TheFooty Podcast Episode #001

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