Off the Wall

The NSW Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, is a rugby league tragic - like yours truly he even listens to the "Continuous Call Team" on a Saturday afternoon!

He follows the Wests Tigers...and I assume the NSW Blues!

Given such an impeccable rugby league pedigree it is hardly surprising the plight of NRL teams, and their feeder clubs, dependent on licensed club revenues, has been getting his attention.

Licensed clubs in NSW are struggling - and it is due to a combination of smoking bans, the impact of economic conditions, and higher poker machine taxes imposed by the Carr Government. Clubs in Queensland are also doing it tough - but the taxation burden is not as great.

What the NSW Opposition Leader has offered NSW clubs, including leagues clubs that fund NRL teams, is a tax reduction package that could be worth up to $80 million over four years to leagues clubs.

In return clubs will have to commit to spending between a third and a quarter of the tax saved on junior and development teams and community activities.

Clubs will be able to claim a deduction for contributions made to their football clubs for any expenditure other than players wages.

The policy also requires all licensed clubs to lift the minimum payment they must make to sporting, community and charitable causes.

The NRL and the licensed club sector have welcomed the policy. The State Labor Government, wallowing in the polls, will surely now have to match it...or even better it.

By linking a reduction in poker machine taxes to a greater contribution to junior teams and community activities, the NSW Opposition Leader minimises criticism that he is going easy on gambling.

The NRL, and rugby league generally, is significantly more dependent on poker machine and related revenue than any other national code. The Sharks, for example, are struggling to put together a first grade team because the Sharks Leagues Club has cut the annual grant to the football club from $2.5 million a year just $500,000 in 2011.

Other NRL teams that depend on their licensed clubs have had their payments/subsidies also cut simply because licensed clubs are not as profitable as they were a few years ago.

The alternative to NRL clubs being funded by licensed clubs is for all sixteen to be owned by the private sector or by wealthy individuals, such as Russell Crowe.

At present we have about the right balance - clubs such as the Broncos, Storm, Titans and the Rabbitohs are public or private companies with shareholders having to carry the burden of losses. Clubs such as the Dragons, West Tigers, Eels and Panthers are basically owned and/or funded by their leagues clubs.

The last thing we need is for the whole of the NRL to be owned by individual entrepreneurs or corporate entities.

The "balance" between genuine member ownership and corporate ownership is just about right.

The policy announced by the NSW Opposition Leader won't totally solve the crisis facing clubs today - but it will help.

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