NRL Gets it Right – For Once

In a world where our sporting body is always thinking about pleasing the TV rights holders when scheduling games, rather than anyone else, it was so refreshing yesterday to see the NRL get it right.

The round 4 match between the Bulldogs and Souths showed that when all the ingredients are appropriately compiled, a game of Rugby League can attract the massive crowds that typify the AFL.

homebushTwo of the top teams in the competition in terms of on-field performances and off-field support clashed on a beautiful Good Friday afternoon. Many took the opportunity to enjoy the entertainment of the Easter Show prior to the game. Free transport and event buses meant it was easy for people to travel to and from Sydney Olympic Park.

There was no dark and cold of night football to turn families off, no need to worry about being home too late before having work or school the next day.

The NRL gave the punters exactly what they want, a beautiful afternoon of top quality football. And we responded. We turned up in droves. A big crowd was always expected, but 52,000? I’m not sure anybody imagined that number of people going to the game yesterday.

This comes the day after the NRL got it so, so wrong. Which is the normal practice for them. On Thursday night Manly played against the Tigers. Manly are still flying high, the Tigers are up and down, but this game was still potentially a good spectacle. Mistake 1 was having it in Gosford. I understand Manly have an obligation to play one game up there, but surely they should attempt to keep their Sydney derbies at home. The ridiculousness of it all escalates, the game was at 8:00pm on a Thursday, before the Easter long weekend. How many fans look at the prospect of battling the combined nightmare of peek hour and holiday traffic up the F3, after a day of work, to watch a match that won’t finish until 10:00pm, meaning they won’t get home until 11, and think “that sounds GREAT!”? Obviously not many, the crowd figure shows it, just 12,000.

Move this game to an actual day of the weekend, the crowd goes to 18,000. Move this game to the afternoon, 20,000. Have it a Brooky, on Easter Sunday at 4pm, and you get a sell-out, a full house at Brooky to enjoy the match. Perhaps even have it at Homebush at the same time and 30,000 might turn up.

So much opportunity for the NRL. But it is all about TV, so they chose the worst possible option.

I’ve always maintained that having massive crowds at matches improves the TV spectacle ten fold. One day the NRL will learn that if they gear scheduling towards the fans, the benefits for TV will flow through, as many people will glue themselves to the tele to watch the match that 50 thousand people are at, making a hell of a lot of noise and having the time of their life.

I bet fox are laughing, for their audience they scored not only the aforementioned spectacle, but also a very high quality game of football. Are channel 9 sitting there wishing they could done a swapsy with Fox yesterday? I bet they are.

Imagine if all the Sydney derbies this weekend were at 4pm on each day at Homebush, cashing in on the Easter Show. The crowds would be fantastic. But unfortunately it just doesn’t happen.

Fans that turned up yesterday and TV viewers should savour the enjoyment of yesterday’s game, because it is a very rare occasion that we are given those conditions.

Update: Here is some evidence to support my claim that channel 9 would be wishing they could have done a swap yesterday. Ray Warren was quoted on Triple M on Saturday morning as saying: “I was so disappointed that Channel 9 didn’t take the Souths vs Bulldogs game”.

Image Source: Original text: Taken by ‘MDM’, on October 1 2006.

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