Lachlan Bickley – What’s The Matter With Sydney NRL Fans?

Alright, I’ll bite.

On Thursday, Daily Telegraph sports editor and NRL provocateur Buzz Rothfield set out his “50 ways to fix the NRL”. As expected they included the usual mix of whinging about refereeing, carping about the costs of attending games and futile plans to retain or lure back star players.

However in a piece with plenty of pandering, perhaps the most fawning treatment was given to the currently missing, and some might say near-mythical, Sydney rugby league fan base.

Four of Rothfield’s proposals were directly connected with cajoling more Sydney fans to attend games and at least two more were partially concerned with the same topic.

Among other things Rothfield wants a guaranteed Sunday afternoon game in Sydney every week; more Sydney derbies to combat the success of the two Sydney A-League clubs; more lobbying to save suburban grounds and a two conference system to ensure that Sydney teams play each other twice every season. The latter is something that Rothfield has proposed before.

Additionally he wants a ‘super weekend’ with double headers to be played at Suncorp, Newcastle and both Olympic Park and the SFS. Finally in perhaps the silliest of his proposals he demands “no more Monday night football at ANZ Stadium with 70,000 empty seats.” Though how this is to be achieved by the NRL is unclear.

So, six recommendations at least somewhat directly concerned with building attendance in Sydney. Is the situation so dire?

Well perhaps Rothfield has good reason to be concerned. Falling attendance league wide has been widely reported this year, with Sydney attendance a key component.

On Monday night the defending premier Roosters couldn’t get 7000 people through the gate whilst earlier in the year a grand final rematch between the Roosters and the Sea Eagles drew less than 15,000.

Meanwhile in the supposed heart of rugby league in the west the Panthers currently sit third on the ladder yet are averaging less than 12,000 fans per game.

Lord only knows how grim the situation would be Sydney-wide if the Eels and Tigers hadn’t had bounce back seasons.

So what’s the matter with Sydney rugby league fans? Is it too many teams in one city? Maybe, but its worth noting that on a clubs to population basis Sydney teams still have a bigger potential supporter base than the Raiders who even in a woeful year are still averaging only 2000 odd fans per game less than the Panthers.

Is it poor public transport? I’ve never lived in Sydney so it’s hard to comment but it does seem like it’s harder to get to the SFS or Olympic Park than say the Melbourne stadium or Canberra Stadium. But if Canberra fans can brave literal sub-zero temperatures then surely Sydney fans should be able to face some inconvenient transport?

Its tough to blame lack of success with the top four all hailing from Sydney and with the surprisingly strong seasons from the Eels and Tigers.

Improved TV coverage is certainly a factor as TVs get bigger and live coverage, on subscription TV at least, gets better and better.

In the end though one is left to wonder just how far the non-Sydney fans are going to be expected to bend over backwards to accommodate a group of fans that are clearly uninterested.

Each one of Rothfield’s proposals would come at a cost to clubs and fans outside of Sydney. More Sunday afternoon games in Sydney leaves fewer for teams like the Raiders who thrive on them. A conference system would mean less travel for Sydney clubs and more for the rest. A super weekend featuring both Sydney stadiums: surely Auckland or Melbourne makes far more sense?

The game may have begun in this country in Sydney but that doesn’t mean that the modern game should be beholden to fans there.

Read Lachlan’s work regularly on the Roar and follow him on twitter @mrsports83

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