NRL crowd problems begin at Home(Bush)
As we sit and anticipate the winter sports imminent arrival, I’m discussing reasons to explain the difference, or better, excuses to explain the lack of crowd support for NRL games. Could it be the weather, the demographic, ticket prices, the spread of teams throughout the country, the product being offered? From where I sit, in a word, Homebush.
Take a look at the AFL. Majority of AFL teams play out of Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Sydney. These cities equate for 15 of the 18 AFL sides. Each ground that teams play out of in these cities are just that, in the city! The MCG, GABBA, SCG, Adelaide Oval and Subiaco Oval are all short drives, walks or train/bus rides from the city hub. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this means one thing, extremely easy access.
Now compare this to the NRL. It’s obvious that there’s one big problem. I have no issue with grounds in QLD, VIC or places like Newcastle, they are all accessible and renowned for good healthy crowds. Brisbane for example average around 33,000 fans per game. There are now 5 Sydney based teams that play some or all of their games at Homebush. For those who don’t know, Homebush is nowhere near the Sydney CBD, in fact on a busy Friday afternoon in peak hour it can take up to 2 hours to get there from the city. I don’t blame any fan of the Rabbits, Tigers, Eels, Bulldogs or Dragons for not attending games, why would you? It’s in the middle of nowhere! People will argue ‘the clubs need the money’ but I hate to tell you, crowds are declining and so are fans of the game. Time is running out to fix the problem. The AFL has 9 Melbourne teams who play out of Melbourne and that seems to work fine, I wonder why?
The NRL has to act now and find a solution. I’d like to put forward one simple option, bring games back to their spiritual homes. It’s what players, coaches and most importantly fans, want! It’s been this way for years. One of my best childhood memories is sitting on the hill at North Sydney Oval watching the footy. There was an amazing atmosphere and it was great fun. As a 26 year old I’d be the first person through the gate at North Sydney Oval if a game was played there tomorrow, regardless of who runs out of the tunnel. Play all Souths vs Roosters games at the football stadium, play Eels and Bulldogs games where they belong and let the Tigers play at Leichhardt Oval. It is THE best place to watch football in NSW (coming from a Panthers fan). That will bring crowds, that will bring revenue, that will bring members. The sell out at Belmore in 2015 is proof enough.
Bring the tradition back and one day we can have the same passion and commitment on seats at games, not sitting at home wandering where the great game of rugby league has gone.