I Can’t Talk About Other Clubs Without Casting A Critical Eye Over Penrith

I’ve always said my priorities as a fan lie in this order: The game of Rugby League, My Country, My State, My Club. That order is basically what allows me to have unbiased views on the game.

Sure I rant and rave about Penrith every so often, but most of the time I’m being critical of them, you don’t see me mindlessly cheerleading for them.

Now after my last post about the financial position that clubs find themselves in, I think its fair that I talk about Penrith and the position they find themselves in.

Penrith is a real enigma as far as gauging their strength goes.

The Catchment Area
The area between Blacktown and Penrith itself is pretty much exclusive Rugby League territory. It is the biggest junior Rugby League nursery in the world by a wide margin, its producing incredible talent on a yearly basis, and because of the large Islander population in the greater west, the area is going to just keep getting better and better as far as talent production goes.

That’s the junior Rugby League system.

As far as the general feeling towards the game goes, Rugby League is the only game out here. When you ask who won on the weekend, you’ll get an NRL score.

There are few areas in the world where Rugby League is such an important part of the culture as it is in the area between Blacktown and Penrith.

The good thing about this area is that it continues to grow and it isn’t limited by borders with other clubs or geography. Not many Sydney clubs can make that claim.

Crowds wise, Penrith struggle, and its confusing when you consider what I’ve just written above.

The area between Blacktown and Penrith is all Rugby League, but the Panthers can not convert that into bums on seats.

I personally believe that is for two main reasons.

1. Penrith has been so poorly run for so long that the majority of people in the area have just given up on them. Why waste time with a club that has caused its own problems for so long? People in Sydney’s greater west know how much Penrith have going for them, they know how the gold mine is being wasted, and it pisses them off.

2. The club does nothing to promote themselves anywhere outside of the line of site of Panthers League clubs.

I mentioned on the official Panthers forums last year that the club should look at playing a few games at the White Elephant stadium the AFL is building in Blacktown. I mentioned it would be a great way to capture a market that’s ready for them, it would help the club claim the area and it would be great for the people of Blacktown to get to have a couple of NRL fixtures every year close by.

Some of the officials who post on the official Panthers forum basically gave me the “What the fuck? Are you insane?” line.

The people running the Penrith Panthers just don’t have any idea about how insular their views regarding spreading the Panthers brand are.

I know people that have had dealings with the Penrith Panthers as far as promotions and even coaching clinics go, and they have all said to a person that Penrith is bloody terrible. They are unreliable, always late, will give you 10% of what they promise if you are lucky and, if you get anything from them at all, you should thank your lucky stars.

On the flip side, these same people would much rather work with the Parramatta Eels, who are more than willing to come out of their own area and into Penrith’s to help promote the game, and therefore, their own Parramatta Eels brand.

The people running the Panthers marketing department are so far out of the loop its ridiculous. The club is bogged down in one area and does not feel the need to look beyond the four walls of their own office to spread the word.

That in my opinion is why Penrith crowds are so poor, because the market is there.

Financial Strength Of The Club
Penrith are not exactly one of the high fliers as far as sponsorship goes. Sure they are part of the Sydney market, but because of the way the people running the club don’t like to move east of Mulgoa Road, the club struggles with a small market, out of the way perception.

Penrith basically gets the same outlook as a Newcastle or Canberra does, a small market team.

So sponsorship wise, Penrith is not one of the heavy hitters.

The thing Penrith does have going for it is Leagues clubs.

Penrith Leagues club, while not the standout bohemouth it once was, is a very big club and a money making machine. On top of that, the Panthers group of licensed clubs is 14 clubs strong.

So if you looked at the books of the Penrith Panthers football club, they wouldn’t look too flash. However Penrith never go without because they have this massive Leagues club group backing them.

Yes its true, you can’t live on Leagues clubs handouts forever, and yes, all licensed clubs are struggling under new poker machine tax’s and smoking laws, but for the tens of millions of dollars the Panthers Group is now paying in taxes, they are still making a profit (Which is by some miracle!) and so that cash cow is probably in better health than many would have thought, even me!

So when it comes to finances, the football club, run like a dogs breakfast, doesn’t look all that flash. But like being one of Bill Gates kids, there is broke, and then there is being broke so you have to get another million thrown on your Platinum credit card.

It would be tragic for the NRL to not have a team between Parramatta and the Blue Mountains. There are so many juniors, so many fans and its already an under used market.

I believe if you had a good management team set up an NRL club in Blacktown, that new club would be an incredible success and probably force the Panthers out of the market to be honest.

If Penrith were to move, many suggest they should move to Perth. I’ve never really been sure why, I think its just because Perth Panthers sounds alright.

The problem with the Panthers re-locating would be that, as a very weak brand, they have never been a very good drawing club for away games anyway.

When Penrith visits say Brisbane or Canberra, its usually the lowest drawing game of the season for those clubs just because Penrith doesn’t really excite anyone at all.

Lets face it, how much entertainment do you get watching a club destroy a weak Panthers side? This is a tough market in Australia, its not like England where people will fork over good money to clap like seals while their clubs puts 70 points past an over matched opponent!

With that in mind, I don’t think Penrith would find the move to say Brisbane being as easy as it would for….well, any other team in Sydney.

Penrith moving to say Gosford would have the same problem.

In Perth and Adelaide they would have to start from scratch just like any other side. However, would you want to entrust the important move into an expansion market to a club that can’t even market itself to Rugby League heartland?

The Future Of The Club
As far as developing stars go, the pure weight of numbers and the law of averages suggest that Penrith will have an embarrassment of riches as far as playing talent goes.

As far as having a market that wants a successful NRL club, once again its all there for the taking for Penrith, or any other club wanting success.

The frustrating thing for Penrith is, it all falls down to the way the club is run, and the club is a basket case.

The wrong people are in charge. They make bad decisions as far as who they employ in management positions, they make bad decisions as far as the coaching and playing staff goes….its all just bad decision makers filtering their terrible ways through the entire club.

The poor management bogs the teams prospects down in every area.

They are no good at promoting the game or the Panthers brand. They are terrible as far as player discipline goes. The club is so poorly run that players actively look to leave the club to further their Rugby League careers!

Until that changes, until the rotten core is removed from the Panthers, I can’t see them doing anything more then lucking out every ten years or so, when so many talented youngsters come through that its just impossible to stuff things up, no matter how hard they try.

Not much of a future to look forward to as a supporter.

The one bright spot is that everything else is in rude health. If you got the right people in there running the Panthers they would be a model club.

How you get rid of all the old heads out of the place is beyond me though.

So basically Penrith’s future doesn’t hinge on financial backing, it doesn’t hinge on an available market with room for growth and it doesn’t hinge on the availability of talent.

The future of Penrith lies at the feet of management how the club is run, and for a Panthers fan, that scares the hell out of me.

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