Canberra, Newcastle, Brisbane, Townsville, New Zealand, Melbourne and the Gold Coast.
These are the names of teams that have come into what we these days call the NRL over the course of my lifetime.
The presence of these teams have been nothing short of vital to the survival of the club I support in Sydney, the Penrith Panthers.
Once upon a time, the Sydney competition was the big league comp. It had all the money, all the big names, it attracted the sponsors, it attracted the best players.
Times change though and thankfully, the games administrators in the NSWRL saw the writing on the wall. They pushed for expansion into other areas of New South Wales, and eventually Queensland.
Let it be known that, at the time of the announcement that Brisbane would join the NSWRL, there were plenty of people that said it was a waste of time and would never work.
It you look at sport over the last 30 years from a global perspective, every single major sporting competition has pushed for expansion. As sport moved from running on ticket sales, to sponsorship, to broadcasting revenue, sporting competition across the world saw the need to provide those paying the bills with an attractive product that would in turn mean the sport got more money.
50 years ago sport got by one gate takings. These days, there are plenty of sports that wouldn’t miss a beat if they shut the gates and just showed their product on TV.
This is the backdrop that Super League and the critics of expansion debate the need to prop up clubs in areas that are not traditional Rugby League areas.
There are two very clear choices that Super League, and Rugby League in Great Britain in general can make in regards to expansion of the competition.
The End Of Expansion
The RFL could put an end to expansion tomorrow. It could tell the Catalan Dragons that they need to go and play in the French competitions, they could shut down the London Harlequins and Wrexham Crusaders and from next year have turned its back on expansion for good.
What will that leave us with?
Well now Super League would be a sporting competition confined to a small area in northern England, with only one club representing a major UK city, and the rest representing small towns.
Sponsors would look at that and think “No thanks, I think I’ll look towards sports that can get me exposure in areas with greater exposure across Britain, after all, I want more bang for my buck”.
Broadcasters would look at Super League and wonder if they should even broadcast a competition that is only going to provide them relevant content to a small area of Great Britain.
So we have Super League based completely in northern England now, but it just is not attractive to major sponsors or broadcasters now. That leads to less money coming into the game. That means clubs need to lower how much money they spend to stay solvent.
That means teams will spend less on players and coaches and in some cases may need to move to smaller venues to cut down on servicing larger stadiums they currently use.
With less money now in the game, what do you think would happen to players who decide they want to have a career as a professional sportsmen? Don’t think they will hang around…
At this point we have a Super League competition based in northern England alone, who can’;t attract major sponsors, that is not able to attract a broadcaster, that can’t keep players and certainly can’t attract players.
Have I made it clear enough?
Try finding a major sporting competition anywhere in the world that is confined to a small geographical area of a much larger country. There just isn’t one!
So the Rugby Football League see’s the writing on the wall and knows it needs to push expansion if the game wants to remain relevant in a global sporting environment that is funded primarily by broadcasting money and sponsorship that exposure through broadcasting offers.
They are desperate for London to work. It is one of the biggest media markets in the world and Super League needs to provide the city with relevant content to broadcast to greater London. They know that, if things fall into place for London, they would need just a fraction of the city to take an interest in the London Super League team for it to turn into a financial success.
They rolled the dice a second time in France and thankfully, the Catalan Dragons have stepped up and been a major success. A presence in France is needed, and will hopefully down the track lead to a few French clubs in Super League down the track.
The Rugby Football League are also desperate for Wales to work. They know there is an untapped potential player base there that has grown over the last few years but they’ve had problems with poor ownership of the club.
These few teams allow the Rugby Football League to go to broadcasters and sponsors and offer them a competition with a presence in northern England and London, France and Wales. Its not ideal, but it is enough for broadcasters and sponsors to work with.
That means there is at least some money flowing into the game, but the Rugby Football League knows that until it can offer more teams in bigger television markets, it will continue to struggle financially.
Modern day sport is about staying relevant to the audience. Not the one you have now, because they are already on board. Its about being able to be relevant to the fans of the future that you hope to capture.
Many years ago, the administrators of the NSWRL saw that. They had a fan base, they had sponsors and they had games shown on TV. Plenty of people would have said back then that expansion was a waste of time, just concentrate on the teams already in the Sydney based competition. What more do you need?
Life changes. Priorities change. How people spend their time changes. With all of that, what is relevant to people and what captures their attention also changes.
There are thousands of sports over the last few hundred years that have died out because they didn’t stay relevant to people in a changing society. Once you just had to get kids to walk down the street to watch the local team play through a fence. Now, you need to break through a million different distractions to even get noticed!
In a world where you can go from nobody to somebody over night, people have bigger dreams than they once did. They want more, they expect more. Everything has to be on a bigger scale than it once needed to be just to get a look in!
In that environment, Super League needs to stay relevant.
It is a decision every single major sporting competition across the world has come to, excepted and moved forward with. Now, its time for Super League to move forward with them, otherwise Super League will become nothing more than a regional oddity who’s glory days can only be read about in text books….or on IPads for that matter.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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