Monday 19 March 2018 / 08:19 AM


Crowds last weekend were an embarrassment to the NRL. They were appalling. It wasn’t surprising. The NRL have long had an issue with crowds. Sadly, the game has done almost nothing about it.

On Wednesday night, a sold out ANZ Stadium was heaving, chock to the brim despite being the most expensive game of the year to attend. Over 80,000 people were there. The game was showcased around the world as a premium event.

Unfortunately, the lessons the NRL could heed from State of Origin for the regular season are ignored time and time again.

The secret to Origin’s success is the secret as to why Grand Finals and playoff games and college football home games in the South and NFL games anywhere and Liverpool matches the world over are: they are events. The match has meaning. There are bells and whistles. It actually means something to be part of it rather than watching from afar on television.

It is impossible to add that meaning, that status, to a regular season affair in the NRL. There are, of course, 192 games. But the NRL could try a hell of a lot harder to make regular season matches an event. At the moment, they do nothing.

A prime example was last weekend. Melbourne was slated to host North Queensland, two of the pre-season premiership favourites with arguably the three biggest names in the sport in Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater. It was scheduled during an Origin round. None of the big names were there. Opportunity lost.

That is to say nothing of the debacle that was drawing 7,000 fans – and that is probably an exaggeration – to ANZ on Friday for South Sydney and Gold Coast. Embarrassing. These problems don’t exist in the NFL. They don’t exist in the EPL, where each team has nearly double the number of home games. It doesn’t happen in the BBL.

That is because these sports make their matches better. They don’t denigrate them by compromising the draw. They promote each match as important. They differentiate between watching on TV and being at the ground. They focus on experience, on leaving fans wanting to return.

You just don’t get that in rugby league.

There is plenty more that can be done around scheduling like taking matches to the bush and minimising the damage caused by Origin. There is so much that can be done around improving the in-game experience so even if you are getting fleeced for food and drink you can do so without missing the game and you can have a little variety. There is plenty that can be done around infrastructure of the grounds like getting direct trains to run to ANZ.

The absolute game-changer, though, is making each match an event. You go to see the game but you want to feel something deeper while being entertained from beginning to end.

At the moment, the NRL just doesn’t get it, thinking if it’s not Origin, it doesn’t matter.

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About the author

Nick Tedeschi

You will not find a more passionate rugby league man than Nick, whose Making The Nut column has garnered a huge cult following over the last decade. The Sydney-based raconteur co-authored The Book of NRL Lists with CBS stablemate WILL EVANS in 2014 and has penned several other books; he joined the CBS team with his weekly Six Up The Middle feature in 2016.

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