Daniel Nichols – A Look Back At Dave Smith’s Almost Year In Charge

NRL Ceo David Smith has been in the job for almost a year now and reports during the week announced that the NRL’s bank balance has never looked better. It has been a very difficult year for everyone involved with the competition with the whole ASADA saga, as well as the usual (and unusual) off field incidents. I’ve decided to take a look back at Smith’s almost one year in charge:

As mentioned, the NRL is now making money hand over fist. The billion dollar TV rights deal gave the NRL enough funds to invest where needed to continue to make money. You’ll notice I’m saying the word ‘money’ a lot, and to be honest, that seems to be what Smith is all about.

Coming from a banking background, Smith had no idea about the game he was about to run. Hell, he referred to the Dally M medalist as Benji Barba in his very first press conference. There is no doubt whatsoever that he was appointed to turn the NRL into an international force, generating revenue like it hadn’t in years gone by.

All 3 Origin games sold out and attracted huge sponsorship and corporate support, as did the grand final. Club memberships were up generally as were merchandise sales. You couldn’t watch an ad break during the season without seeing Jessica Mauboy, Sonny Bill Williams or one of the 23 Burgess brothers.

On the financial side, Smith gets an A+ for his efforts … but at what cost? (clever aye?)

Crowd numbers were way down on years gone by, as were ratings, as fans lost confidence in the game. A horrible refereeing error ended the season of the Cowboys, and cost at least one club (i.e. Manly) tens of thousands of dollars this season. The ASADA investigation dragged on for the entire season, with Cronulla only learning of their punishment before Christmas. The saga will also continue.

State of Origin tickets went on sale recently and had fans up in arms with the ridiculously pricing. The cheapest ticket is now $65, with a family ticket setting you back $195. This is the biggest and best show our game can put on, so I fully understand them pricing it to match that perception, however many people who haven’t missed an Origin for years are now unable to afford tickets.

NRL surveys in the major papers revealed fans were most concerned about the price of tickets, and food and drink at the venues. Absolutely nothing has been done about this … except the fact that most clubs have put their membership prices up. As I mentioned earlier in the year, a Sharks family membership with the CSSC has gone up some 80%. I will not be renewing the family membership I purchased last year. I’ll still get my single membership but my son is now at an age where he’ll start understanding a little more what is going on and I’d like to have a seat for him at every game. Many families are in the same boat judging by the feedback received.

I know this is mainly a club decision, however the NRL ultimately has to sign off on everything before it goes public.

The standard of refereeing, although not as terrible as in 2012, was still diabolical at times this season. Daniel Anderson, who had no refereeing experience, was horribly out of his depth and finds himself back where he belongs, in coaching players on field, not officials.

The decision to appoint Todd Greenberg as the second in charge was lauded by the general public and designed to take the NRL day to day decisions away from Smith, but Greenberg’s handling of the Ben Barba situation has striped the public’s confidence of Greenberg, putting the onus back on Smith.

Smith’s incredible decision to skip out on the 9’s press conference, leaving players to address hard hitting Asada based questions showed me he doesn’t truly understand the game and its fans. Fans want hard questions answered by the man in charge. He walked away saying he never intended to answer Asada questions, when every man and his dog knew journalists would be asking said questions at the conference… it has been the biggest news story for his entire reign as CEO.

For mine Dave Smith has excelled in his roll of turning people upside down and shaking them until every cent has landed in NRL coffers. A man with a banking background was always going to improve the financial side of the business, it’s been his business for many, many years. Has he improved the financial status of the game? Yes …. Massively! Has he improved the game? For mine, no!

Until Smith fully embraces the working class, which make up the majority of his audience, he will be looked upon as the money man. Fans are crying out that prices are too high, and dipping attendance figures across the board support this. The fact they couldn’t sell out an NRL Finals double header involving 3 Sydney teams, including the minor premiers, says something about the status of the game.

For the record I’m not calling Smith’s head … I’m just calling on him to stop treating fans as walking ATMs and reach out to families to fill stadiums. For mine 20,000 at $10 is much better than 10,000 people at $20 … but I guess that’s just me.

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