Tag: NRL

Dear NRL,

Dear NRL,

‘Grow the game’ is a term that you will hear more often than ‘Stop the boats’ during an election campaign. I wonder where those three words rate on the presentation offered to you by broadcasters?

Just yesterday, I watched a really good State of Origin clash, which reignited an entire state, and introduced Kalyn Ponga to the largest audience possible. Well, maybe.

On a Sunday night, at 8:14pm, the whistle blew to start Origin II. My 8 year old boy was allowed to stay up til half time, which was 30 minutes past his bed time (8:30pm).

He didn’t make it, falling asleep on the couch before NSW scored, or Kalyn Ponga took to the field. You could imagine his surprise and disappointment (he is a QLDer) when he heard the result the next morning.

Don’t mistake this for lack of passion. This same 8 year old boy will happily travel 130kms each way every week to play for 40 minutes in under 10’s. In fact, it was on Sunday morning that he last did that. He got up, as did I, my 9 year old daughter and my 4 year old son, and we drove to Mt Isa, as we do every week, so he could take the field at 10:30am. In that game, he got his hands on the ball only once, made about 10 metres and got tackled. He made a couple of tackles, then game over, into the car, and 130kms home.

I marvel at that fact that he still wants to do this. He trains twice a week, spends 3 hours on a Sunday in a car, all for 1 run and a couple of tackles? Surely that won’t last.

I tell you what would help, being able to sit down at a reasonable hour to watch a great game, where a young player debuts and gives hope to all the young players out there. – Makes them dream of playing on the big stage.

Unfortunately, like the majority of his team mates and anyone under 12 most likely, it all happened while he was fast asleep.

I love sport. I have spent my life following all kinds of sports from all over the world. I have been a die hard Rugby League fan since I was born. But when I was his age, my only option was League. I could watch a game on Saturday and Sunday through the day. I could watch the mid week comp at 7pm on a Wednesday, and sometimes was lucky enough to watch a Friday night game, starting at 7:30pm, if mum and dad let me.

Now, on any given week, two games start after 8pm. One of these is on a School night. A third game starts after 7:30pm. Every Origin starts well after 8pm, on a Wednesday or Sunday, both School nights. All but 3 finals games start after 7:30pm.

Do you even know what your competition is these days? If you think it is AFL, you are completely wrong.

Do you know who my son’s favourite player is? Mookie Betts. Mookie who, you ask?

Mookie Betts is a Left Fielder for the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox play 162 games a season, not including finals. More than half of those games are on between 9am and 1pm Australian time. It is extremely rare that they don’t play on a Friday and Saturday night, which broadcasts live here on a Saturday and Sunday morning.

His second favourite player is Ben Simmons. What a story! A young Australian player playing beyond his years in a league full of superstars. Sounds a lot like Ponga.

But my son can’t see Ponga play every week. In fact he can’t see any player every week, as 4 teams are out of the question – those that play on a Thursday or Friday. Plus the late game on a Saturday is a bit of a push.

He can see Ben Simmons though. 82 games a season (not including finals) in the NBA means that he can guarantee at least one game a week where he gets to watch him play.

I’m not arguing for the NRL to increase games. I am arguing that in order to ‘grow the game’, you need to SHOW THE GAME to the youth. You need to understand that sports-mad kids these days aren’t able to watch their favourite NRL team every week.

I live in North West QLD. Nearly everyone out here is a Cowboys fan. Nearly every Cowboys game starts after 7:30pm on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. The kids that would normally plaster themselves in Cowboys gear are now starting to wear Cav’s singlets, Yankees caps and Oakland Raiders jackets.

What is your solution, NRL?

How can you compete with the fact that every Australian youth can watch any american sport easier than they can watch the NRL?

How can you compete with the fact that every child can pick up a copy of NBA 2K, FIFA, Madden or MLB the Show on their Playstation and get a really polished game, yet every League game ever is about as polished as a 1979 Mazda 323?

Know your competition. Actually, forget your competition. Don’t make every decision about this game on how you can beat another sport. Make this game that I love your focal point. Trust your product, and let it be seen by as many people as possible, especially those who might end up playing it if they do.

Finally, think of the School Teachers today. It is possible that a few of their students stayed up til 10pm last night, and those teachers would have had to deal with a class full of tired and cranky kids on a Monday morning. Pretty sure you wouldn’t want that, and i am certain they didn’t.

Oh but Channel Nine are happy. Guess that’s all that matters.


Australia, why don’t we Tailgate?

If ever there was something that seemed so Australian, it’s tailgating. And we don’t do it!

What’s tailgating, you ask. Well it is not driving too close to the car in front of you, if that’s what you are thinking.

On a trip to the US in 2016, I made my way to multiple events that had Tailgates set up. I stumbled across the first one by accident. I had a ticket to the Stanford Cardinal College Football game, with the kickoff at 12:30pm. I also needed to meet with their marketing manager, who asked to meet at 6:30am, as game days, in her words, are ‘crazy long and alcoholic’.

I turned up to the carpark at about 6:15am, to find a large amount of spaces already taken. They weren’t like Australian sporting event carparks, where marshals force you to park so close to the next car that you need to exit via the window, no – these marshals were giving them a ‘maximum setup space’, and people were setting up BBQ’s, fridges, esky’s, TV’s, ballgames and deck chairs.

At the completion of my meeting, I was taken to a Craft Beer and Brekky event within the Tailgate. That’s right, as many craft beers as I wanted at 7:30am, to go with my stripped bacon, eggs, waffles and deep fried chicken.

But I didn’t stay too long, as there was so much more going on around the carpark. I just walked around, meeting amazing people, and being invited into their setups. Most setups had about 7-10 people present, but the community feel was alive and well, with plenty of people coming and going in and out of everyone’s setups. There were games of sack throwing, some weird game that could be best described as throwing weighted string at an indoor clothesline, and loads more. Some setups even had prizes for those who won their game. It was quite bizarre.

Some were families, some were mates, alumni, work colleagues, neighbours, but all were in high spirits, and extremely friendly.

By 10am, the place was packed. but suddenly a rush of people headed toward another area on the campus. They lined the walkway from the tailgate to the stadium as the players arrived. The marching band led them in, and a crowd of thousands cheered them into the arena.

Once the team had entered, and the crowd headed back to the carpark, I noticed a whole other area, another carpark, that had another tailgate setup, but this one was huge. Not only did they have the individual setups, they had companies giving away free stuff, food vans as far as you could see, merchandise stores, both licensed and not, and so much more. In the middle of all of it, there were some portable grandstands. I went in to see what was going on, and the College were having a Wrestling competition between their team and the team from Oregon, who they were playing in the football. Just awesome.

I made my way into the stadium in time for kickoff, but the stadium looked pretty empty. Confused, I asked someone nearby where everyone was. They said that most people don’t leave the tailgate until at least the end of the 1st quarter, some not til the second half, and depending on the how the tailgate, and the game, is going, some not at all!

A couple of days later, I went to Levi’s Stadium to watch the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL. Again, on arrival, the carpark was full with mindblowing setups. But they also offered a paid tailgate, called the Red Zone Rally. It cost $80, and included free food and drink, including all alcohol. They also had plenty of activities setup, like kicking through the goals, throwing a touchdown pass, meeting the cheerleaders, mascots etc. and even a ride on a rollercoaster. The food hall had hundreds of TV screens up with all the other NFL games being played live across the country.

Finally, I went to the Rose Bowl to watch UCLA football, and again, it was an all day affair. I came home with that much free fan gear, many would assume I attended UCLA as a student.

Now I reflect on the last live football game I went to in Australia, and I remember remarking on how good it was that they had a paid for jumping castle outside the stadium for our kids. That was the pre-match entertainment. Meanwhile the NRL scratch their heads on why the stadiums aren’t selling out.

With one exception, I have never seen pre-game, mid-game or post-game entertainment that is memorable in Australia. I have been to Grand Finals, State of Origins, AFL, NRL, Big Bash, Rugby World Cups, A-League, Socceroo World Cup Qualifiers – nothing. Often the best entertainment you get is the fans, which is great, but what are the venues and the sports administrators doing?

That exception? In December I went to my first NBL game. It was the best sports event I have ever been to in Australia. The game was good, but you were entertained from 60 minutes prior to tip off, right through til 20 minutes after the final whistle. I imagine not many people would think that the NBL is the winner, but as far as atmosphere and entertainment, it is streaks ahead in this country.

Simply relying on the game itself is not good enough. The tailgate experience is an all day affair that has the game as the cherry on top. In order to be at the tailgate you needed a ticket to the game, but if a ticket to the game means a whole day of entertainment, suddenly the cost of that ticket doesn’t seem that high.

Surely there are venues that could provide this type of experience in Australia. Yes you need space around the arena, which some don’t have, but a lot do. Whether they are carparks, training fields, Schools, anything that could bring this sort of atmosphere to Australian sport, and I guarantee, the tickets will sell better, the grounds will be fuller, and the fanbases will grow.

It is worth noting that there are some Colleges in the USA (that’s right, Colleges, not NFL teams) that have sold out their arenas for every game over consecutive YEARS! Nebraska have an 80,000 seat stadium, that has been sold out every game since 1954. They have the longest streak, but certainly not the only streak.

What do you think? Can this ever happen in Australia, if not, why not? Comment below.