Looking Towards The Future For A Game That Dreams Big

The deal has been done and the budget is now set, so where does Rugby League go from here?

For well over a decade Rugby League in Australia was just trying to survive. It wasn’t that the game wasn’t growing, it simply come down to the fact that clubs at first were spending way beyond their means, and then that was followed up by a very poor broadcasting deal that meant the game was under funded.

Rugby League in Australia has learned to live on a strict budget, and now with an income that will be well over $200 million a year just on broadcasting rights alone, I think it is time to finally have the games administrators sit down and form a blueprint for the games future.

Short term goals are obvious. Raise clubs grants as well as the salary cap. Lift minimum wage and representative payments. Market the game more effectively and spend more money on grassroots football.

The medium to long term goals however will require the game to show enterprise. It will need a mindset that has been missing from the games administration for some time.

When I was growing up, Rugby League was a sport willing to take chances and think big. It was a sport full of optimism and that had huge dreams it wasn’t afraid to chase. A decade of frugal thinking has taken the game from a sport that once expanded to a 20 team competition to one that is scared to looking beyond having 16 teams over a decade later.

The powers that be need to have faith in the sport. They need to be willing to roll the dice. They don’t need to go crazy, but the sport can now afford to take a few chances and try to grow the game so that when the next broadcasting deal comes around we are offering an even better product than we have right now.

Broadcasters didn’t put value in expansion but that doesn’t mean the ARL doesn’t have to have the same mindset.

The Western Australia Rugby League is ready to go right now and bring in the West Coast Pirates. When you consider that their addition would cost just over $5 million dollars per year and all but give the NRL a national footprint, it is hard to argue against their addition to the competition. If it means we have a 17 team competition for a few seasons with bye weeks, that isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Adding the Pirates as a 17th team would not over stretch the current talent pool and it would mean we still offer 8 games a week, a figure the broadcasters are happy to go with for the next five years.

Thought must also be given to a second Brisbane team considering how much value that market holds to broadcaster, as well as a second New Zealand based side that would be funded a few times over by the broadcasting money that comes in from New Zealand.

Speaking of New Zealand, I think it is time the NRL made a real push to help promote the game with the NZRL and make Rugby League a sport that even more New Zealand based players choose to take up.

Imagine kicking off an NRL season with an entire round of games played in New Zealand on both the north and south islands. A weekend where Rugby League simply takes over with the week leading up to matches seeing all 16 teams promote the game, hold coaching clinics and public appearances. If Rugby League did that, that would go beyond promoting sport. All of New Zealand would be abuzz about a season kickoff like that, and that can only be good for the game in a country that currently holds the Rugby League World Cup trophy.

We now have the opportunity to take more games to country areas. New South Wales country areas will get the most media coverage but we need to look at areas such as country Queensland, Darwin and even Hobart. Many clubs already take some games to different areas of the country but it is now time we had a defined strategy to make sure that as many areas as possible can get a taste of big time Rugby League.

One thing I would love to see return in the short form of the game. I used to love watching the Rugby League World 7s, but lets take a step forward and have a Rugby League World 9’s competition during the off season.

Imagine during summer a Rugby League World 9’s competition that includes all NRL clubs as well as international teams. Play it in Melbourne at Etihad Stadium with the roof closed and the environment controlled so players aren’t effected by the heat. Make it a mix of first graders and Under 20’s players so that the risk of injuries to kept players is kept to a minimum.

Play that over Saturday and Sunday afternoon and I guarantee it would rate highly on TV while also giving yet another chance for Melbourne based sports fans to get into Rugby League through its international competition.

There will be a push to expand the World Club Challenge with talk already that it could be played in Dubai or possibly Asia. These are the type of things Rugby League used to be famous for trying…and now we have the opportunity to try things again.

It is a really exciting time for Rugby League and for the first time in around 15 years, the sport can once again afford to be aggressive with with thinking and look to build something really exciting for its future.

After all…now we can afford it!

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