Well you can tell the NRL season is less than a month away from kick off, the World Club Challenge has just completed, Charity Shield kicked off, and murmurs about the Melbourne Storm spending their last season in Victoria this year.
These murmurs, usually started by cynics of the code, or the Sydney-centric fans who believe we should go back to the days of the NSWRL believe the Storm are as good as dead, offering nothing to the NRL. Such statements could not be further from the truth, with the Storm offering more to the NRL than half the other clubs in it, especially many Sydney based ones.
First off, lets talk about the monetary side of the Storm. Many claim that it is a huge multi-million dollar loss making entity which News Corp want nothing to do with. The fact is however, whilst yes it does make a loss, it is significantly smaller than most NRL clubs, plus it has brought with it a level of high profile sponsors.
Honda, Addecco, Crazy Johns, Canterbury Clothing, ACCPAC, Jayco, SouthCorp, Gatorade, 3AW, Publishing & Broadcasting, Fox Sports, News Corporation, Holiday Inn, Kelloggs, Schwarzkopf, Nova and the Fosters Group are just some of the major sponsors the Storm have brought to Rugby League in recent years, resulting the Storm strip being one of the most valuable in the NRL, worth well in excess of $1 million a season.
The Storm also, whilst not a huge amount of publicity, at least make regular impacts into the Melbourne media, in both the Television and Newspaper press, something Rugby League did not have on a regular basis till their inception. This increased publicity for League has helped boost the value of sponsorships as well as draw new sponsors to the game.
The Storm are also the only club in the NRL which have successfully sold League television coverage to the Asia region, with all Melbourne games receiving coverage on ESPN Star.
Melbourne have also had a positive effect on the growth of the Victorian Rugby League particularly in the junior sectors. Now whilst it is still a number of years before there are any NRL players who have come through the VRL junior system, League should not repeat the mistakes it made in South Australia and Western Australia when professional clubs where cut there, almost crippling the junior systems.
Finally the Storm have been incredibly successful in introducing new fans to the game of League. This is shown each year with the NRL Grand Final which draws figures of around 400,000, name another area where a League team could have such growth? The Storm have also proved to be quite a valuable asset for NRL partners like Fox Sports who have enjoyed strong growth in the viewing figures of their games on their network south of NSW.
Crowds for Storm games have also been reasonable, and just like all other areas, whilst there is room for improvement, it is not as bad as some people point out.
The Storm have established a spot in Melbourne now, and wont be going anywhere soon. They are now entering their seventh season, and are in a position to have one of their strongest both on and off the field.