MEET Shane Richardson, his current role is the Head of Game Strategy and Development for the National Rugby League and his key task currently is to investigate the merit and warrant for any expansion.
Shane, working out whether Brisbane needs a second team or not is like working out if this country needs better politicians in Canberra, Shane, it needed to happen years ago!
The NRL, a reasonably semi-organised rugby league round robin run socially by good-natured drinking buddies out of Sydney have been dancing around the subject of expanding their code to further their growth and maximise their revenue streams for years now.
There was the unmitigated disaster of the Super League war in the mid-1990s, there was the chaotic disappointment of mass mergers around the turn of the millennium, some successful, some really not; the NRL has had their hands full trying to get the existing format right for decades.
The Gold Coast Titans were the last expansion effort in 2007 and even then, they are a part-time football club, part-time headline machine, they have certainly not rocketed off the line by any stretch.
Firm rival to the NRL is the Australian Football League and they quite profoundly played their cards when they went 100% into the Gold Coast and Western Sydney markets. Without even blinking they structured the 17th and 18th expansion sides with aplomb and whilst there have been the inevitable hiccups and growing pains, they did so with such conviction you’d back a great result with both new clubs before too long.
The Gold Coast Suns are a fledgling club but has the resources, talent and organisation to do well, the GWS Giants have the harder task but the market opportunity was glaring and the impetus to succeed is profound.
The AFL has smartly negotiated to keep the 10 Victorian clubs strong whilst procuring a game in every other of the four other states they play in superbly.
Yet critically, the AFL now has a home and away match in New South Wales and Queensland every week, which is massive for their growth and just as huge for their television money.
But back to our old friends at the NRL, who have the Brisbane Broncos running amuck in the sunshine state capital all to themselves for 28 years now, and rather successfully at that.
Six premierships, the greatest crowds, the largest supporter base, they have been running a cash-grabbing conglomerate uninterrupted for year after year. Running the Broncos off-field is like running an oil rig in the Middle East, no need to adjust the business plan, just keep doing what’s working for as long as you can.
But what good is this for the NRL? Nothing is the answer, sweet, sweet nothing.
The longer the NRL puts off accepting a second Brisbane franchise the louder the laughing and the more comprehensive the contempt from AFL house at their northern states rival.
The AFL understands quite clearly the threat the NRL poses if they get it right eventually. No matter the performance of the aforementioned Suns, and Giants, as well as the Brisbane Lions and Sydney Swans, those states will always be rugby league heartland.
Sydney and Brisbane are clearly the country’s biggest and third-biggest sporting market and capitalising on their existing markets no question severely impacts on the amount of coin the AFL can extract from broadcasters when it comes to rights negotiations.
Up until now the far-better run AFL has outscored the NRL for TV money, but a second Brisbane NRL club could really narrow that margin.
Looking at the case for a second Brisbane NRL team it really makes one wonder where the NRL has been looking all this time, the ceiling perhaps?
The greatest stadium in the NRL is Suncorp Stadium, the home of the Broncos. They have clearly averaged over 30,000 per home game the last 10 years; the best team for attendance out of Sydney barely gets to 20,000.
How crazy is it that the NRL doesn’t want to get 30,000+ fans to Suncorp each and every week? They must look at the fixture and weep when they see the Broncos playing away to Canberra or Manly and the crowds they attract instead. You can measure some of the other club’s crowds with a clipboard, a felt-tip and a sturdy index finger.
But ah, would a second Brisbane team attract similar crowds, isn’t Brisbane 110% behind ‘their’ Broncos?
Research says surprisingly no, in fact somewhat the opposite. There is a healthy portion who never got on-board with the Broncos, they had a NSWRL side and a Brisbane Rugby League side and they impart blame on the said Broncos entering the then NSWRL for effectively wiping the BRL off the map.
Those potential fans who didn’t attach themselves to the Broncos could reliably join the new team – they could be drawn in because it’s a team in Brisbane who just simply ‘isn’t the Broncos’.
This has been proven also in Perth and Adelaide, not everyone jumped on the West Coast Eagles and the Crows which paved the way for the flourishing Fremantle and Port Adelaide to co-exist strongly.
Estimates have the financial impact to the NRL at well over $250 million. That’ll buy a good handful of Bondi properties. It’s a rather large carrot and any properly ambitious organisation would be hell-bent on securing that kinds of windfall.
Sure, the logistics behind such a move need careful and persuasive business cases, sound decision-making and very considered planning.
But how hard can it be? Whether you expand to 17 teams and wait for the weakest link to drop off in Sydney, not worrying too much at all as they sadly exit for the dollar signs you are now seeing up north or by going AFL-style to 18 and going to the Central Coast or Central Queensland as well, it doesn’t matter.
The fact is, for every passing season the Brisbane market, the league’s most culturally important market, goes without week-to-week representation and the addition of what would almost immediately become the league’s second richest team, it’s an indictment on NRL HQ.