Forget all the promotional talk of NRL expansion and for a moment forget the impressive success of the Rabbitohs and the Titans in the past 12 months,Â less than a week after chief executive David Gallop flagged possbileÂ further expansion of the premiership – some Sydney based clubs are still doing it tough, fighting to make ends meet.
Several NRL club CEO’s have flagged concerns over the ability of all Sydney clubs to survive, given revelations that St George Illawarra may be forced to abandon Wollongong due to the impact of increased poker machine tax.
The Dragons have already had a $2 million cut in funding, prompting St George Leagues Club general manager Danny Robinson to contact New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma with his concerns.
Robinson has warned the Dragons could be forced to leave the Illawarra region because of the financial strain.
Penrith chief executive Glenn Matthews, part of a committee formed to lobby the State Government over the issue, believes natural attrition could claim Sydney clubs unless something is done.
“Things aren’t getting any easier,” Matthews said.
“We have tough times ahead. At the end of the day, what Super League was about was trying to decentralise and have a national competition, and not have too many teams in Sydney.
“There is going to be pressure.”
The issues facing Sydney clubs were put into perspective only last week when Brisbane released its financial statements for last year.
The Broncos generated more than $24 million in revenue.
By contrast, the vast majority of Sydney clubs are operating on less than half that after leagues club grants are taken out of the equation.
The NRL showed figures last year thatÂ suggested 12 clubs were losing money without the aid of their leagues clubs, including three that lost more than $4 million.
As if to further illustrate the game’s problems, the NRL showed its clubs where they stood in relation to other sports.
Two AFL clubs, Collingwood and West Coast, generated revenue of more than $40 million in 2006. Two Super 14 teams, New South Wales and Western Force, produced more than $20 million.
“From the outside it looks like there’s too many clubs (in Sydney),” Brisbane chief executive Bruno Cullen said.
North Queensland chief executive Peter Parr stressed he was unaware of rival clubs’ financial details, but said he believed it would be better if there were fewer teams in Sydney.
“I would suggest there’s too many but I don’t know the ins and outs of it,” Parr said.
Even Parramatta chief executive Denis Fitzgerald conceded Sydney clubs faced a testing future.
“Maybe it’s added pressure for amalgamation in Sydney or relocation for a Sydney team,” Fitzgerald said of the loss of revenue.
“Sydney clubs are under immense financial pressure. We have to get relief somewhere.”
South Sydney executive chairman Peter Holmes a Court believes the answer lies in increasing memberships, while Manly is among the clubs looking to expand its revenue base by exploring interstate markets.
The Sea Eagles are poised to play a game on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast next year at Stockland Park, a multi-purpose 15,000 seat stadium which is scheduled for completion in 2009.
The privately owned club is also looking at business opportunities in the region.
“I think it’s becoming tougher,” Mayer said.
“At the moment it’s a bit early to panic. Every club has to be well and truly aware that their traditional revenue streams are going to be tested.
“You have to be creative. We have found a second home on the Sunshine Coast.”