Expand or die - Beattie’s plan to save the NRL
FORyears the NRL administration has been accused of lacking vision.
Bogged down with the same tired old ideas and no strategic planning for the future.
The soon-to-be-appointed new independent commission chairman, former QLD Premier Peter Beattie, has bold ideas to grow the game.
He spoke exclusively to sports Editor-at-Large Phil Rothfield yesterday about his vision for the NRL and plans for expansion.
Buzz: So are you ready to step in for John Grant as chairman?
I am only interested in taking the role if I have the support of the clubs and all stakeholders.
The constitution says I only need the support of the other independent commissioners but I want to make this work. So I will be asking for a vote of the entire commission including the club and state nominees … and I will only take the job if they all want me there.
There is no point having a Chair the clubs don't want. We want unity and cohesion.
Look, I want to stake my future in the game on this. We can't have the clubs and head office at loggerheads. We are only going to make this game even better if we work together. Some might say I am dreaming if I think that will work but I am going to give it a red hot go. If we're having barnies we're only undermining the game.
Buzz: Let's get you thoughts on some issues starting with expansion.
Expansion has to be on the table. The game can't be complacent. We have to grow. If we stagnate we die. And that is why I want to see it back on the table. It's time.
We need to be strategic about it and think long term.
There is so much other entertainment and other sports people are interested in. We can't sit on our bums. The quality of the game is great but we've got to ensure it has a future.
That's why expansion is so important.
Buzz: So what areas?
Now this is my personal view. We need to look at where we're going. We're putting a big emphasis on Perth this year with the season opener.
By the time the next TV deal comes around at 2022, we've got to have a product to have an attractive package for the networks. Are we going to have another QLD team? Or is it PNG? Is it Perth or country NSW?
The new State cups will provide an opportunity for everyone to demonstrate they deserve a place in the NRL. Not just through their on-field performance but the way they run their club and their business.
I can't wait to see teams like Perth, Fiji, New Zealand, PNG, Country NSW and other cities in action, week after week in State Cup matches. Even Ipswich or Redcliffe. We've got to give them all a signal that we're looking at expansion.
This broadcast cycle will give us the opportunity to see how serious they are about becoming part of the NRL. And, if one or two of them demonstrate they will benefit the NRL, can we look at including them in the next cycle?
Buzz: What are your thoughts on the decline in crowds and TV ratings.
This is a tough one … there is hardly a sport in Australia which isn't struggling to maintain crowds and TV ratings because our world is changing so much.
When we did the tickets for the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, we targeted families.
We knew we'd sell more if we charged less. Mum and dad and two kids could go to an athletics event for $60.
We sold a million tickets, which is a lot more than if we'd had higher prices and gouged people.
And we have exceeded our revenue targets.
It shows if you've got a quality event and you charge a fair price, people will come.
Crowds have been steady for a decade or more … up one or two per cent then down one or two per cent depending on the weather, which teams are going well and a range of other factors.
But we have to try to break that cycle.
The new stadiums will be a game changer. For the first time in decades, especially in Sydney, fans will have brilliant facilities, served by fast, efficient transport. Women won't have to queue to use the toilet. Guys can get a beer easily. That's what it's about.
Buzz: And TV ratings. They've been in decline, too.
I think we will change the way we measure viewers as more people use their computers and phones to watch matches - and that's why our investment in a world-class digital system is so important.
Buzz: And food prices. Fans don't like being ripped off.
You make sure people get good food and they don't get attacked by a bushranger with a hand in your pocket. I understand it's a big issue and we'd all like to see it become more affordable to spend at day at the footy. The truth is you can usually get a family ticket for four for about $50. That's pretty good. Cheaper than the movies. And I think the venues are trying to drive down food prices.
Buzz: Not everyone likes big stadiums that lack atmosphere. What about suburban grounds. The tribal homes of the game.
I think the Government has got it right. Parramatta stadium is going to be a real hit. Near the station, the shops, the restaurants and bars … what a great day out that will be.
We need a world-class stadium in the city and, of course, there has to be a marquee stadium for the Grand Final, Origin and other major events.
Naturally, we would all like to see the suburban stadiums upgraded as well. But we've done pretty well. I don't want to sound greedy here.
At the end of the day the suburban grounds have to be updated too. We want to keep them. The challenge is trying to fund it. Families want to go to venues near where they live.
If the game grows and expands then you've got the opportunity to put the wood on people for money for things like that.
Nothing beats Leichhardt Oval on a Sunday afternoon. And as a new resident of Balmain, I will be joining them this year.
Buzz: But aren't you a Broncos fan?
Ha! I've got to be neutral now I am on the Commission, don't I? Look, I have been a Queenslander all my life and have nothing but love for the State. I've spent most of my life in Brisbane but now I am living in Balmain. So maybe I should be supporting the Wests Tigers.
Buzz: The game is broke. Where can we cut costs?
Well, firstly, the game is not broke. We've done a record broadcasting deal and we have taken the opportunity to use that windfall to make our clubs and players more financially secure than ever before.
So I am more interested in generating more revenue than cutting costs. This game has so much potential.
So I want to look at how we schedule and run events like the Nines and the women's game to generate more funds for the game. We've only scratched the surface in those areas.
Buzz: Off field behaviour and scandals have been a big issue.
I actually want to congratulate the players for the way they have conducted themselves in the current off-season.
I know there can be an incident at any time … but this has probably been the best off-season on record. I am not aware of any major incidents involving our players. So we should give them credit for that.
The truth is, of course, that our players are like any other group of 20-35-year-olds in the community. Most will never get into trouble. A couple will go off the rails from time to time.
Our players really pay a huge penalty when that happens. Not only do they have to deal with the issue legally, but they are named and shamed publicly and often get stood down from their career - playing football. That does not happen to too many other people in society.
We have been tough in recent years. Some players have had their livelihoods taken away from them. But I think it is clear that the players are taking heed of what has happened.
We are not going to let up … we have to protect the reputation and image of the game.
Buzz: What challenge are you most focused on?
My biggest passion is junior football. I want to make it easier for young people to play the game, I want more people playing rugby league.
And the best way we can do that is to ensure there is a game for everyone, whether you are a toddler, junior, girl or boy, senior or elite player. Whether you want to play contact or non-contact rugby league. Because we'll only have a strong future if we have more people playing.
I really want to focus on that in the first 12 months.