Like most people, I was pretty disappointed with the crowd the Cronulla Sharks drew at home on the weekend.
It was perfect weather for Sunday night football, it was the season kickoff after a few brutal years of off field drama, there were new signings getting their first run for the team, and the Sharks went into the game as favourites to beat the Raiders.
Basically, it was pretty hard to find a reason as to why a Sharks supporter wouldn’t turn up to the game.
When the crowd figure of 11,096 was posted for the game, it got me thinking…
At what point does a supporter base accept that it is time for their club to relocate to ensure their survival in the National Rugby League?
Now, I don’t want to mention the Sharks again in this article, I just used them as an example. Plenty of Sydney clubs have attracted poor crowds to opening rounds in the past. This is more of a general question I think most Sydney clubs have to contemplate right now.
With stadium rationalisation on the cards and the growing need for teams in large population bases such as Perth and Adelaide, all Sydney clubs have been put on notice.
Right now Sydney clubs are fighting a cold war that is slowly going to turn hot. Clubs are lobbying for stadium upgrades and they are starting to state publicly why they are important to their region of Sydney.
Keep in mind that the NRL CEO is a former banking executive. David Smith was brought into the game to help turn a football competition into a business. On that account, Smith and the administrations at the NRL are doing an fantastic job.
So what does a bank do when it has under performing branches in close proximity to one another? They shut one down, throw an ATM in a wall and people need to get use to change.
I think we will see a Sydney club relocate within the next decade. I wonder whether it will be a full relocation or whether it will be done in a way to minimise the blow to a clubs traditional fan base.
For instance, I could see a scenario where a Sydney club, let’s use my Panthers as an example, plays all of it’s home games in it’s new location such as Perth or Adelaide. They then play all of their away games in their old location in Sydney.
In that scenario you would be servicing a new area with a full home schedule but you wouldn’t be completely walking away from your traditional home base either. You’d be giving the clubs old home base the same number of games.
Now, there would be issues with the loss of ticket income that each team would lose by now hosting the newly relocated Panthers at their old stadium, but that could probably be worked out without too many hassles.
From there the NRL would simply work on supply and demand. If people stopped attending games the Panthers played at Penrith it would simply lose one or two of those games each season until the right balance was found.
It would be a radicle solution but one I think the NRL would be willing to employ simply because it is easy to get decent PR out of such a move. A club can move to another state and yet the NRL would be able to state to a fan base “You will get the same number of games you always have in the past, so you don’t really have anything to complain about”. It would go some way in helping to avoid all of the bad PR the NRL would receive by a full relational where a club leaves it’s old supporter base behind.
I will write about which clubs I think are in danger of being relocated another time. It is not a nice thing to write about to be honest. Times are changing though, no the demands on Rugby League as a sport are changing rapidly.
Rugby League is a fantastic sport that is growing at a rapid pace, but so much money is being spent on under performing clubs and that will no go on forever.
Sydney clubs are now marking their territory and every slip up, every bad financial result, every poor season on the field, and every poor attendance will be used as a reason to push a club to relocate.
The question as to when a club pulls the trigger and relocates is a very delicate one, and I’m not even sure what the tipping point would be on a big decision like that. I will say that I think a few teams are creeping towards that scenario though, and for those teams the way they handle the next few season will determine if they remain in Sydney or if they end up in a whole new city all on their own.