Passionate Parramatta Eels fan Andrew Fell is back, as he casts his eye over the importance and value of suburban grounds in the NRL and just how they stack up against ANZ Stadium. Which is better and which do you prefer? Packed, suburban grounds or scattered ANZ support?
Let me preface my comments by saying that I am a member and season ticket holder of my club and have been for the last 15 years, so I regularly attend matches and also enjoy watching rugby league on television when I am unable to get to the game or my teams not involved.
The first point I would like to make about why the NRL doesnâ€™t get more fans to the games are ticket prices. Ticket prices are too high. Each year in November, I fork out my hard earned on my membership and season ticket and every year, my club tells me I am getting my tickets at a discounted rate because I am a member. Yet midway through every season, the NRL offers fans discounts to get out to the game. Itâ€™s a knee-jerk reaction that smacks of desperation. Lower ticket prices for memberships at the start of the season and youâ€™ll get a lot more season ticket holders, and you wonâ€™t need to cut the guts out of ticket prices to get bums on pews. Itâ€™s that simple! And by doing this at the beginning of the season, you wonâ€™t alienate those fans who did the â€˜right thingâ€™ by the club and paid for their tickets upfront.
I look forward to my weekend for three reasons in particular. The first is, I donâ€™t work on weekends. Awesome! The second is caused by the first; I have time for family. And thirdly, the football is on and everyone who knows me, knows that just like Billy Idol, I love my Footy! So, imagine my disdain when the NRL decides to put games on Thursday night and even worse, Monday night. I know, I can hear you all murmuring about how successful the ratings are and how much money the game has because of the recent TV rights deal and blah, blah, blah, but the NRL keeps waxing lyrical about getting fans out to see the game in the flesh and these games – in fact any live broadcast – reduces the size of the crowd. Donâ€™t believe me! Take a blockbuster like Souths v Roosters. Put that game on a Friday night and it will draw 30 000+ people. Put the same game on a Monday night and Iâ€™m guessing we would only see half that crowd in attendance. The game wonâ€™t be anything less of a spectacle, yet the comfort of a lounge chair and not fighting Sydney traffic to get to a 7p.m. kick off at the ground are almost reason enough on their own to stay away from the game.
The game day experience itself needs better value for money. I love my music, but I donâ€™t need to see Jimmy Barnes, Jessica Mauboy or 5SOS performing at half time. Letâ€™s face it, most of the acts at the rugby league (probably not those previously mentioned) are only lip-syncing anyway, but thatâ€™s a whole other discussion. I like to get to the game early as often as I can to see the young up-and-comers plying their trade in the Holden Cup. Itâ€™s nowhere near first-grade standard, but quite enjoyable all the same. In years gone by, (Iâ€™m showing my age here) you could see the Presidentâ€™s Cup (now the Holden Cup), the Reserve Grade (now NSW Cup) and First Grade (now NRL) all on the one day. It really was a day out at the Football. Even if itâ€™s not feasible to have all three grades at the same ground every week, why not try and schedule this as often as can be achieved.
The final point I would like to make is in regards to the NRLâ€™s fondness for the â€˜big stadiums.â€™ Now we all know the elephant in the room is ANZ Stadium. Sure it holds the biggest crowd of any stadia in NSW and provides an awesome atmosphere for State of Origin matches and NRL Finals, but for a club game, itâ€™s positively awful! Iâ€™d rather brave a bitterly cold night in the nation’s capital than watch a game at Homebush! It is clear clubs only use ANZ Stadium because of the financial incentives offered to them. But surely with the new TV deal in place, the NRL could use some of that money to bolster club finances so that they donâ€™t need to sell out on their fans and take matches away from their â€˜spiritualâ€™ homes. Parramatta, Bulldogs, Souths, St George Illawarra and Wests Tigers all use this venue for the same reason and I am amazed at how many fans complain about all aspects of the venue, but mostly about the atmosphere and the view. Itâ€™s a great Stadium, but not for rugby league and especially not for club matches.
So if the NRL are serious about getting fans out to the games, (which I suspect they are not and would rather fans watch on television) then I challenge them to make some changes in the above areas and see if crowd numbers are boosted as a result. I believe it was Einstein who said that ‘the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over, but expect a different result!â€™ Isnâ€™t it time the NRL moved to bolster the fan numbers instead of boosting the television ratings?