Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Silly Scheduling Shredding Crowd Numbers (2017)

We’re only four weeks into the NRL season, yet there have been murmurs since the first kick-off that crowds are looking poorer.

The NRL scrapped the regular Monday night fixture from the 2017 schedule in lieu of a weekly Thursday night game instead. This has been met with a lukewarm response at best, while some changes to kick-off times on Friday night have also taken place, which have had quite a dramatic impact on attendances.

In 2016, the Monday night games had averaged 13,522 fans – a sharp rise on the two years prior. In 2014 the Monday fixtures were at their lowest, drawing just 11,606 people to each game on average. 

That rose again in 2015 to 12,212.

In 2017, the Thursday night games have reeled in 12,952 per game so far, already a noticeable drop.
Friday nights now have two games live on TV, with one starting at 6pm and the second at 8pm, while the Thursday game kicks off at 8pm, as opposed to the 7pm kick-off time of the Monday night games from last year. The attendances for Friday night games is well down this year, too, averaging less than 20,000 for the first time since 2008 and at its lowest average since 2001.

If viewing audience or crowd numbers were a reason for scrapping the Monday night games, why then replace it with a later game on a Thursday night?

The problem is that the people making decisions about the schedule aren’t the sort of people they are hoping to attract to the stadiums and TVs to watch the games. The vast majority of people who attend and watch have jobs Monday to Friday from 8am until 5pm.

Doesn’t matter if you are in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Auckland, Newcastle, Canberra, Tarcutta, Barcaldine or Waipu, if you finish at 5pm, you will be in for a mad rush to get home and in front of the idiot box in time for kick-off, while still having to feed yourself and prepare yourself for the next day at work.

It’s immensely harder if you decide to attend the game, with the final siren sounding close to 10pm, the challenge of attending games on a weeknight when you have to go to work the next day becomes one that most people opt against.

And that’s only the struggle for single people. It becomes more and more complicated the more people who are added to the mix, especially if some of those are schoolkids or toddlers. Simply put, games on at night from Monday to Thursday are doomed to struggle.

From 1908-40 no premiership games were played on a Friday. From 1941-87, 29 games were played on Fridays sporadically every few seasons, with 15 of those played on ANZAC Day.

The switch from attending games to watching them on TV had an immense impact on how people consume the sport. It made it infinitely easier for vastly more people to watch more games, yet despite this there is still some ignorance by the NRL regarding the lives people have away from the game.

The NRL has plenty of issues to deal with here. They’ve seemingly decided that they don’t want to restrict themselves to just three days a week of football, despite the fact it would improve turnaround times – benefitting players and clubs wholly.

They also need to find a way to get games on earlier for fans, especially those in New Zealand who don’t want to stay up until midnight to watch a game end, yet at the same time not start games too early in Australia because people won’t be able to get to venues or a television in time.

So perhaps a simpler option is to have no games on from Monday to Thursday, one game on Friday at 7pm, four games on Saturday with kick off times at 1pm, 3pm, 5pm and 7pm, with three games on Sunday starting at 1pm, 3pm and 5pm.

Playing almost exclusively on Saturdays and Sundays worked for 80 years and the game managed to grow without massive television saturation. There’s little to suggest that playing over three days would have any serious impact on the game, but it could potentially have plenty of upside.

****This article appeared on Commentary Box Sports website on  March 28, 2017****

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