Monday, 11 February 2019

NRL Expansion Talk (2019)

On February 9, 2019, Peter Badel from Brisbane’s Courier Mail wrote an article making the claim that 2 Sydney NRL clubs should be axed and at least 1 Brisbane team should be created to fill the void.

While he makes some sound arguments, such as the struggles that some Sydney clubs have, some of the other claims need to be challenged.

He argues that a second NRL side in Brisbane would crush rival codes there and his evidence is by highlighting how essentially, the Broncos have already done much of that and would likely have the same impact on a second Brisbane NRL team.

“The AFL’s Brisbane Lions are a skeleton of the powerhouse that won a hat-trick of flags in 2001-03.

Football’s Brisbane Roar have seen crowds drop 34 per cent in the past 12 months.

Rugby’s Reds — once a genuine threat to the Broncos on the scale of crowd figures — have lost major traction in a code that has lost its marbles.”

He also went on to say that the South-Eastern corner of Queensland has an estimated 3.5 million residents.

Nowhere in his piece does he mention the Robina based Gold Coast Titans, purely because they would weaken his argument.

2018 saw the Titans record their second lowest crowd average since their 2007 inception, with 12,807 fans turning up on average per game, down from their peak of 21,618 in 2008 and almost 1,000 per game less than in 2016 when they last reached the finals.

He then supports his argument with an outlandish quote made by Nick Livermore, one of the shareholders in the Brisbane Bombers expansion bid team. Livermore said:

“With crowds of 24,000, a second Brisbane team would make a $1 million profit. And that’s not factoring in the NRL grant, which is now greater than the salary cap.’’

Only one team averages crowds of 24,000 and that’s the Broncos. A second team would change that and bring their average crowd figure down, just like the Crushers did when they joined the competition in 1995.

Furthermore, the Titans have never averaged crowds of 24,000 in a season and they don’t have the Broncos within a stones throw of them as an excuse.

In 1996 when Brisbane had the Broncos and the Crushers, the South Queensland side averaged 10 thousand less fans per game than the Broncos. The Crushers had 13,016 fans per home game. In 1997 they were averaging less than 10 thousand per home game.

If that figure was carried across today, using the 2018 crowd averages, the second team would struggle to average 22,000. And if the Titans is a guide, those strong crowds will last for 3 to 4 years.

South Queensland survived for 3 years.

Let’s have a look at how those 3 years (1995, 1996 and 1997) worked out for Brisbane.

1994 – Brisbane averaged 37,705 per game (11 Broncos games)
1995 – Brisbane averaged 28,466 per game (11 Broncos games and 11 Crushers games)
1996 – Brisbane averaged 18,109 per game (10 Broncos games and 11 Crushers games)
1997 – Brisbane averaged 12,536 per game (9 Broncos games and 11 Crushers games)
1998 – Brisbane averaged 20,073 per game (12 Broncos games)

There’s a reason why Broncos games attract big crowds, they have no competition. As soon as competition arrives the Broncos crowd drop and the number of fans attending games in Brisbane drops as well.

Livermore then cherry-picked data to support his evidence, attacking the Wests Tigers crowd figures, one of the worst performing teams in the past 5 years and a club who uses several home grounds each year. He questioned what the club provides and their existence in the competition.

So here’s where we get to my view.

I detest the notion of axing clubs. People have this impression that fans of an axed club will just support another team. Axing clubs also axes fans.

Relocations are nearly as bad, although small moves, within the proximity of the clubs base, can always be considered – ie – Manly covering the Central Coast, Gold Coast covering South East Brisbane/Ipswich.

In an ideal world, the Wests Tigers would be permanently based at Campbelltown.

The code needs to expand. Perth has to be one of the new teams and I’d argue that a team from the Sunshine Coast (representing the region and northwards up to Bundaberg) should be top priorities, that way you don’t have a new team eating away at the Broncos, while still getting another team that is within reach of the Brisbane populous, while also being based in an area with a larger population than Townsville.

An 18 team competition is very much achievable and reasonable and a 20 team competition should be the end goal with a team from Adelaide or Darwin (as they are in a different time zone) and a team from New Zealand, either Christchurch or Wellington.

I don’t believe that plonking a team where one exists is expansion. You haven’t created a new market, you haven’t expanded anything.

I’m very much supportive of another team in Queensland, but I don’t believe we should be white-anting the Broncos, because that would likely just create a repeat of the problems that Badel stated are rife in Sydney.

We’ve done Queensland right. Let’s not ruin it.