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Some have said that 2002 was destined to be the year when Rugby League in Australia returned to the big leagues. South Sydney were back in the fold and the public seemed interested in rugby league again.
For the first few weeks, this idea held true. Partially as a result of the return of the Rabbitohs, crowds skyrocketed and were over 15,000 on average for the first few weeks. Things seemed good, as most clubs were reporting big numbers out of their games. Outside of the first Roosters/Rabbitohs game that attracted 36,000, the Knights/Broncos game drew 35,000 and the Bulldogs/Warriors game in Wellington drew a crowd that approached 25,000.
However, this has all changed in recent weeks, and one has to ponder the question, why??? In the past month, league crowds have struggled across the board to get into 5 figures. Even the centrepoint of NRL 2002, the mighty rabbitohs, drew a crowd that slipped under the 10k mark. The downward slide was best depicted in the Rabbitohs/Dogs game last week, where 14,000 fewer people turned up than the corresponding game of 2 months ago.
So whats happening?? Suggestions so far have included:
-Poor weather -Loss of interest due to the long season -State Of Origin taking away the spotlight -Ticket Prices
Quite noticeably, almost any excuse under the sun has been given. The fact remains however, that the responsibility lies with the fan to get out there and support their team. Audience numbers on the TV for league are still huge, the people are watching. Over 1 million people in Sydney alone watched the State Of Origin contest last night. The 'potential market' is huge, however this is not being converted into spectators on seats.
To put it bluntly, the NRL needs to be proactive rather than reactive. They need to lead with the front foot and put initiatives into place that will increase crowd numbers in a sustainable way. Reduced ticket prices, more membership offers or even 2 for 1 offers. The fact is, they need to do something, as there is a developing problem of crowds dropping away mid-season.
Quite simply, its time to wake up.