NRL under the microscope – Part 2

Friday, February 11, 2011 Posted by the sportsloop team
Recently the NRL has been inundated by bid teams from across the country expressing interest in becoming the leagues 17th or 18th club.

The Western Reds, Central Coast Bears and outfits from Central Queensland and Brisbane have the media all abuzz with talk of shoring- up rugby league’s heartland or entering new territories and taking it to the AFL. And while I'm an advocate for making the game truly national, there are a lot questions that need answering before expansion becomes inevitable – for starters:

·         What can these new teams bring to the competition and the league in the short and long term?
·         Can we maintain 9 Sydney clubs in a truly national competition?
·         How can the league afford to support more teams when some current clubs are already struggling to remain viable?
·         Will the Independent Commission set out a platform for sustainable business for NRL clubs?
·         Is there a cap system that provides for an even competition and doesn’t result in teams being forced to shed players after just becoming successful?

On face value each of the bid teams bring some benefits and unique opportunities for the game. The Central Coast lives and breathes league. They have the stadium and better yet they have ready-made support.

Like the Bears, the Reds have been here before and enjoyed relatively strong support. Significantly for the NRL, Western Australia offers a new market to sell to TV stations and provides an untapped time slot for the league. But this begs the question how can they sell the rights for an extended comp without delivering one? Unless that decision has already been made...

If indeed a national competition has been preordained, what then for the densely populated market of Sydney? Can a national league be based so heavily in one city or does the future hold more mergers and the formulation of super clubs? Now there's a scary thought for Ian Schubert.

People often forget the salary cap is not simply in place to stop clubs with higher revenue streams, strong crowds and good corporate support from creating an inequitable competition. At this critical time in the game’s history perhaps the caps more primary function is to sustain life for clubs on the other end of the equation.

Contrary to popular belief removing the cap wouldn’t result in a spending spree. Most clubs bar the Broncos have at one time or another been under pressure to improve their revenue in order to either satisfy the league or ensure they can remain part of the competition.

The shift towards club memberships and promotion of third party deals and corporate or private support in the game will alleviate some of this pressure in the future. As will improvements in the television rights deal and the establishment of a central administrative body in the Independent Commission but these are all yet to come to fruition. Even then does the league need to set some benchmarks for clubs (ala Super League days) so that those struggling to attract the bigger contracts or constrained by a limited supporter base can be identified and more ably supported?

It is clear though that no matter the caps intended purpose; in its current form it is having a cyclical impact on the success of NRL clubs and a yo-yo effect the emotions of fans. Canberra Raiders fans have waited around 15 years to see the club emerge from a recurring ‘rebuilding phase’. Now as they prepare for their most promising season in years there are already whispers that the team Don and David Furner have nurtured, developed and recruited may be picked apart once again by ravenous competitors keen to benefit from their hard work. I have to ask is this too heavy a price for clubs to pay for one or two years at the top?

Despite all that lies ahead there's plenty to look forward to in season 2011, and I can assure some of it involves football...

See you at the game.

 - DJK

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