New Parramatta Eels CEO, Bernie Gurr, has drawn a little criticism from his Western Sydney rivals over the last couple of days following a statement he made in a bid to find his club a new major corporate partner ahead of the 2017 NRL season.
The administrative face of the blue and gold boldly declared: “We are the strongest professional sports organisation in Western Sydney.”
It’s a statement that has ruffled the feathers of both cross-city and cross-code opponents. Many of whom (if the quote grabs of particular news sources are anything to go by) have chosen to present their own perspective on the matter as they naturally push their own claims to said statement.
Folks, this is nothing new in sport. After all, the very nature of sport is competition. In fact the very definition of sport is: “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”
Did you notice that last part? “Competes against another or others for entertainment”
All of a sudden, we’re not just talking about sport anymore. We’re talking about entertainment (of which sport is a subcategory).
Sport is in competition with other forms of entertainment to yield as much consumer and corporate dollars as it can for the survival and advancement of its cause, which is ultimately, to become the most entertaining product available to the consumer that generates profits for its owners to re-invest into the maintenance and on-going growth of that product.
In order to generate this much market share it relies on external sources to finance part or all of its operations in order to put itself in the most competitive position possible. That way the life of its product becomes sustainable – it’s how all businesses work.
In the rugby league landscape clubs are competing against each other for the membership, ticket and merchandise dollars of unaffiliated supporters and arm chair supporters to generate income and secondary spend (their loyal supporters are already guaranteed revenues in this marketplace), as well as for corporate dollars to support its operations (separate of broadcasting deals and Leagues Club grants).
Now consider that sport is a subcategory of entertainment, competing for your attention against all other forms of entertainment. Within this subcategory, there are a multitude of options to pick from (all the sporting options available in Sydney, one of which is rugby league) and within rugby league there are sixteen teams to pick from – nine of which are located in this city – a city with a population of just under 5 million. A portion of this population adore the sport, a portion dislike it, a portion simply like it, and a portion are indifferent to it.
When one considers nine teams are competing against each other in this market place (four of which are in Western Sydney: The Eels, Panthers, Bulldogs & Tigers) for the financial support of organisations and will in return provide marketing, brand and value-in-kind opportunities for these organisations, it’s natural for the leaders of these clubs to make statements that position themselves with the most enticing information and data to draw the support of prospective sponsors and corporate partners – after all, their survival and ability to thrive depends on it.
It’s why you’ll hear the spokespeople of the Eels’ rugby league competitors rattle off their own numbers, so as to justify why they are best positioned for the competitive corporate and sponsor dollars this region of Sydney has to offer.
Penrith Panthers Group and Football CEO, Brian Fletcher was quoted as saying: “We have 128,000 members in our group, 98,000 at Panthers. We have 8500 juniors, I don’t know how many they have got. I think you see Oak (Penrith’s major sponsor) in the Telegraph more than any other sponsor. Plus Gus (Phil Gould) is with Channel Nine”.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs CEO, Raelene Castle was quoted as saying: “…currently the Bulldogs are the highest-watched team in NSW over the past five years an also have the highest average crowd attendances in NSW”.
A Wests Tigers spokesman was quoted as saying: “We have the fastest growing membership among Western Sydney NRL clubs (2016) and our geographical footprint represents enormous opportunity for a brand that has over 300,000 fans.”
All of these numbers sound great to the average punter. They’ll take them as gospel and absolute truths. Conversations in the coffee rooms of workplaces around the city, online forums and general rugby league chitchat will be directed to these statements, because on the surface they appear to be genuine and true.
Now before I move onto my points, I must preface, I am by no means doubting the validity of any of these claims by our competitor club representatives. In fact I know these statements to be true, but they are only true in a particular narrative and context. Apples are very much being compared with oranges here, as selective marketing spiels are revealed for the sake of positioning each respective club in the best possible light. You cannot blame the representatives of each club for doing this. It’s their job to do so and they all do a damn good job of flying the flag for their club. However, when one investigates this information on a deeper level, a clear winner comes out across each of the true metrics.
The Panthers claim to have 128,000 members in their group, which I wholeheartedly believe to be true. However, when we account for human nature and the reasonably minded individual, one would walk away from this reading and believing, the Panthers have 128,000 members. They would then market themselves to big companies and prospective sponsors as a business that has 128,000 members, of which they are completely within their rights to do so – but how many of these are going to provide value in relation to the rugby league team specifically? This is ultimately what’s being questioned here and what Eels CEO Bernie Gurr made statements in relation to when he made his proclamation about Parramatta. Gurr’s statements were specific to the Eels NRL team and the region. Fletcher’s statement is about the Panthers Group as a whole.
Over 3/4 (98,000) of these members of Panthers. As in Panthers – your world of entertainment – the Leagues Club with many vibrant restaurants, bars and live entertainment. This is an impressive feat no doubt, but how many of these 98,000 specifically identify with the rugby league or as rugby league supporters of the Panthers team? How many of this 98,000 does a sponsor actually have access to when it comes to sponsorship of the rugby league club in itself? A further 8,500 are Panthers juniors – again, an impressive feat – but is a sponsor gaining access to all of these juniors? And do all of these juniors identify themselves as Panthers supporters? I mean surely there are youngsters running around in the competition who support teams other than Penrith? Are they truly hitting and reaching that 8,500? That leaves 21,500 unaccounted for. One must assume that a large number of these are season ticket holders and based off their membership numbers in previous years, it pretty much accounts for all of them, but I can question these numbers for days – not because I believe them to be untrue, they certainly are true, but it’s not accounting for the actual number and data associated to the NRL team.
When NRL teams talk in relation to members (financial ticket and non-ticket holders of the NRL team), this is the metric of which they talk about their reach. They don’t include the number of members of their Leagues Club or juniors as a part of that metric – they are separate and subsidiary businesses respectively. Sure they have a relationship, they co-exist and none can exist without the other, but a Leagues Club is not a professional sporting organisation – it is an entertainment organisation that help funds a sporting organisation. Junior League is not a professional sporting organisation. It has professional administrators who over see it, but it does not operate with the income or level of personnel that a professional sporting organisation does.
Additionally, of that 98,000 and 8,500 respectively, how many of those are doubling up as members of the NRL team? These statistics create the allusion of 128,000 individuals, when it’s highly likely that some secondary spend is at play – e.g. a husband and wife are members of Panthers Leagues. They have two kids who play junior league and the whole family are season ticket holders. Within that 128,000 these people should only make up 4, but if you count all of the secondary spend at play with Panthers memberships and junior league registrations, they can be counted as 8 in this 128,000. That’s double the real number being advertised, and only with an example of four. So it’s easy to see how quickly these numbers, although true, can be taken out of context – however, all that we will take away from that statement upon first hearing it is 128,000 members. Smart marketing from a fantastic administrator, but an actual representation? I’ll let you be the judge.
Let’s examine the statement made by Bulldogs CEO Raelene Castle. “…currently the Bulldogs are the highest-watched team in NSW over the past five years an also have the highest average crowd attendances in NSW”.
Again, I don’t doubt the validity of these statements, but what is the context in which they are being delivered? Are the Bulldogs the highest watched team in NSW over the past five years on a particular channel or NSW as a whole? Is this comparing viewership against average viewers on a particular channel? Or total views across all channels and all sports? Does it factor in average viewers per game they play in? Or is it a total number across all the games they’ve played in this five year period, (of which would include finals series)? There are so many variables at play with an open-ended statement like this and it’s not a truly comparable metric.
Consider this. The Bulldogs have played in every finals series the last five years. This means that they have played more games in a year than the Eels, who have played in no finals series in this time. Finals viewership is considerably higher than regular season viewership, as naturally, the stakes are higher. Two of these years (2012 & 2014), the Bulldogs played in the NRL Grand Final, an internationally syndicated and broadcasted match. Are the raw viewership numbers of these finals games and the NRL Grand Final being included in this statistic? (Which I assume they are until being proved that they’re not) Because if so, this skews the data significantly in their favour ahead of the other Western Sydney teams who haven’t appeared in any Grand Finals during this period of time. However, all people will take away upon hearing that is the throwaway line: “Bulldogs are the most watched team in NSW” – but realistically, are they being compared against the other NRL teams across the course of the 26 round season? Are the Bulldogs average free-to-air viewership numbers compared with the Panthers, Tigers and Eels average free-to-air viewership across the regular season? Are the Bulldogs average pay-tv numbers being compared against their competitors across the regular season? These are the questions that must be asked and answered to determine who really comes out on top when these statements are being thrown around.
Similarly, the same must be said of highest average crowd figures. We are referring to a team that plays out of an 80,000+ seat stadium to those who don’t even play out of 20,000 on a regular basis across this time period? How about the games the Eels and Tigers take to ANZ stadium? Are the average crowd figures from those games being compared with the Bulldogs average crowd figures? If so, then we are comparing apples with apples, but this writer gets the feeling that only raw numbers are being spoken about here, and if that’s the case, a higher capacity stadium will always win out. In 2012 the Eels played 3 home games throughout the regular season at ANZ Stadium with an average crowd of 29,429.67. They finished 16th (last) and did not compete in the finals series. In that same year the Bulldogs played 11 home games at ANZ Stadium and averaged a crowd of 21,962.82. They were minor premiers, finishing first in the regular NRL season and made the NRL Grand Final, going down to eventual premiers, the Melbourne Storm. There is a discrepancy across this average of 7,466.85 in favour of the Eels. This is a much more accurate comparison and this is only across one year.
The Wests Tigers in 2016 averaged 20,394.67 in 3 home games at ANZ Stadium to the Bulldogs in 9 home games at ANZ Stadium averaged 15,622.22. When we’re comparing apples with apples, are the Bulldogs really averaging the highest crowd attendances in Western Sydney?
Let’s delve a little further and compare the Bulldogs average home crowds in this five year period at ANZ Stadium across the regular NRL season. This table will compare the average crowds of Western Sydney NRL teams that play their matches out of ANZ Stadium between 2012-2016.
|Year||Bulldogs||Eels||Bulldogs variance against Eels||Tigers||Bulldogs variance against Tigers|
|2012||21,962.82||29,429.67||-7,466.85||Did not play||Did not play|
|2013||21,922.67||21,072.5||+850.17||Did not play||Did not play|
|3 YEAR TOTAL (2014-2016)||53,278.72
|5 YEAR TOTAL (2012-2016)||97,064.21
Average: 19,412. 842
Average: – 8,677.292
I don’t know about you, but I notice some pretty big discrepancies when we compare apples with apples. Now sure, the Bulldogs have the highest average when you factor in ANZ home finals games into that average. That immediately boosts their numbers, but across a regular season? Both the Eels and Tigers average higher home crowds at ANZ Stadium. This is the only point in time in which the teams can be truly compared.
The Wests Tigers spokesman who was quoted as saying: “We have the fastest growing membership among Western Sydney NRL clubs (2016) and our geographical footprint represents enormous opportunity for a brand that has over 300,000 fans” has used some more specific data in their statement.
The fastest growing membership amongst Western Sydney NRL clubs is an interesting account. The author of the article in which this information was published has edited 2016 into brackets to create context around the statement, as originally, this was not prefaced when the quote was grabbed. No doubt when the Tigers go to market most likely don’t preface this statistic either, which is fine, they’re under no obligation to do so, and when comparing the 2015 NRL membership numbers to 2016, they do show the highest growth percentage wise year-on-year, but that’s only one isolated year. Let’s have a look at the Western Sydney membership numbers growth over a bigger period of time from 2012-2016.
As we can see from the table above, the membership numbers do in fact show that the Tigers had the fastest growing membership of the Western Sydney Clubs in 2016. However, the also had the lowest number of members across all four Western Sydney NRL clubs. The highest? Our own Eels with 23,302. Now I’ll admit that some of the 2016 membership numbers are not final numbers and we’ll have to wait until the 2016 NRL Annual Report is released to do a true analysis, but based on the information accessible to date, this is the data we must go by.
Since 2012 the Eels have grown 198.5% accumulating 11,563 more members compared to their tally five years earlier. The Tigers on the other hand had grown 193.6%, 4.9% lower than the Eels and have only added 7,139 members to their membership base from five years ago.
Now without the author prefacing that this was in 2016, the Tigers could go to market with the statement “We have the fastest growing membership among Western Sydney NRL clubs” and everyone would take that as a complete truth. They’re not lying when they make this statement, but they’re not providing true context either and aren’t comparing apples with apples. When you compare apples with apples, there is again, a clear winner amongst it all – the Parramatta Eels.
Additionally, the Tigers spokesperson makes reference to “….our geographical footprint represents enormous opportunity for a brand that has over 300,000 fans.”
Over 300,000 fans? I wonder where this number has been plucked from? Again, I’m not doubting its validity, I’m sure it’s true. I just question the context in which this number has been obtained and with all metrics equal, how this number would measure up against the other three Western Sydney NRL clubs?
Let me now take the opportunity to draw your attention to a report that was conducted by Repucom in 2012. For those of you who don’t know, Repucom is a sport market research company. They were acquired by Nielsen Sports in 2016 and were engaged by the NRL in 2012 to conduct a yearlong study into the supporter base of rugby league in Sydney. A specific part of the report focused on the stronghold of the Sydney region, the Western Sydney NRL teams, and how the fan bases of each NRL team faired in these areas.
The report found that the Western Sydney teams enjoyed the following amount of supporters across the Western Sydney population:
|Team||Supporters in Western Suburbs of Sydney|
Now even though this was five years ago, we can see via these numbers, from an agency the NRL officially engaged, that the Eels enjoyed 91,939 (142.5%) MORE supporters across this demographic than their nearest rival, the Wests Tigers. Of course, this report was completed almost half a decade ago and these raw numbers will have changed and I’m not privy to any other reports and research that may have been conducted since this time, but I find it hard to believe that the Tigers grew over 83,520+ more supporters in this period, that they can accurately quantify against their other Western Sydney opponents.
Similarly, I find it hard to believe that the Parramatta Eels, who enjoy the highest raw supporter numbers, regressed or stalled, when the population of all Western Sydney Suburbs increased over this period of time and the club enjoyed a 198.5% growth in membership. Sure, I may not have the raw numbers to quantify this, but all other things considered, it’s a long straw to draw to suggest the Tigers are stronger in this metric than Parramatta is. Not that the Tigers ever claimed to be in the first place, but when you throw the statistic around “fastest growing membership among Western Sydney NRL clubs” which doesn’t preface Y.O.Y percentage growth for one isolated year, followed by the statement “….our geographical footprint represents enormous opportunity for a brand that has over 300,000 fans” it lends itself to the narrative in the reasonable persons mind and those prospective partners and sponsors who are likely hearing these spiels for the first time and not having it measured against other quantifiable data, that the Tigers are the strongest performing Western Sydney NRL team in this metric and as we can see from the collective data above, this is simply not the case. It’s only true in relative terms.
Now when you consider we are competing against these clubs for the corporate dollar and financial support in this city, and our position as the strongest professional sporting organisation in Western Sydney is being questioned, one can’t help but scratch their heads at some of the statements made by our competitors.
I am by no means having a go at any of our rival Western Sydney sporting teams, after all, this is survival of the fittest. However, as an Eels supporter with this knowledge, I see it only fit to bestow this information onto our wider supporter base and those of prospective corporate partners, that in this competitive market, may not be getting the true Parramatta Eels story that proves us to be the strongest performing professional sporting organisation in Western Sydney when it comes to our reach – which when we talk corporate dollars, is what it ultimately comes down to. If you want a strong, identifiable brand that will give your business presence, then Parramatta is your team.
Have a look at our current online presence compared to the other Western Sydney NRL teams:
|Team||Facebook Likes||Twitter Followers||Instagram Followers||Total Social Reach|
Now the Bulldogs come out just on top here when we refer to the individual numbers (+1,997), but there’s one statistic missing to round out the total social reach which I simply do not have access to and that’s website hits. If you throw each clubs website hits into the above data, you will ascertain their total digital reach. However, when you consider that 95% of Australian people who use social media use Facebook (over 31% who use Instagram & 19% who use Twitter) Parramatta again come out on top in terms of their social media reach – they’re hitting a larger and wider number of people.
The statistics keep pointing to one NRL team here, and it’s the Parramatta Eels.
But what of the other Western Sydney sporting organisations such as the A-Leagues Western Sydney Wanderers and the AFLs GWS Giants?
Firstly you have two organisations who are only relatively new to the market place Western Sydney Wanderers (est. 2012) and the GWS Giants (est. 2009). They’re competing against rugby league clubs that have been in the region under their associated brands up to 108 years longer than they have respectively – that’s a lot of history to catch up on.
Secondly, the Wanderers are not a threat or competitor to the Eels or rugby league. They’re an ally and an asset. The collective growth of the Eels and Wanderers has leant itself the construction of a new multipurpose stadium for both clubs – it’s a truly remarkable feat that both organisations should be congratulated on for contributing to and proud for accomplishing.
Additionally, the A-League season operates across a different part of the year to the NRL season. We are not competing against one another in the metrics for viewership or membership. There are many Wanderers supporters who are also Eels supporters (as they are also Bulldogs, Tigers, Panthers and supporters of other NRL teams). Their exposure to the wider public eye has very little cross-over. They operate at different times of the year and communicate to different markets.
No one is questioning the feats of the Wanderers, I for one truly respect what they have achieved and agree with what their CEO John Tsatsimas said: “If you compare what we have achieved in under five years with any team in Australia our position stacks up favourably. We have created a strong and sustainable partner category, many of whom have been with us since our inception, our digital growth is astonishing and we have excellent diversity in our demographics, including a massive youth audience”
That being said, the Eels membership numbers from 2016 still outnumber the Wanderers membership numbers for the corresponding season. The Eels stand at 23,302 to the Wanderers 19,528. However when you talk crowd figures the Wanderers in their last season at Pirtek Stadium averaged 14,297.38 across 13 home league games in the 15-16 A-League season. Conversely the Eels during their last season at Pirtek Stadium in 2016 averaged only 12,575.44 in crowd figures.
Trying to compare these statistics and reach is a lost cause. Either side will present a subjective case to why their brand is better and stronger when there’s no real need to. The Eels and Wanderers are not in competition with one another, because it’s apples and oranges. Our co-existence has created a mutually beneficial opportunity for both parties and I for one think it’s fantastic – that is where the discussion and comparison ends as far as I’m concerned.
As for the Giants spokesperson who stated the following: “As the youngest elite level sporting organisation in Western Sydney, the Giants continue to experience unprecedented growth across all key areas” the Wanderers are the youngest elite level sporting organisation in Western Sydney, they were established 3 years after the Giants. And as for unprecedented growth? Well everything is unprecedented when it happens for the first time – it’s new territory for them and the Giants have every reason to enjoy their success, but there isn’t any data that quantifies them as being ahead of any other sport in the area at this stage (not that they claimed to be).
So as Eels supporters, what do we take away from all of this? From the perspective of potential sponsors and prospective corporate partners the Parramatta Eels make a very definitive case for being the strongest sporting organisation in Western Sydney. As we can see from the above information, when you compare apples with apples and measure the real data contextually against our so called competitors, we come out on top with the things all potential sponsors look for.
- The largest membership and supporter base in Western Sydney
- The largest TV reach of any club in Western Sydney
- The largest online presence of any team in Western Sydney
- The largest female supporter base in the NRL
You can take them as real truths. After all, he’s only comparing apples with apples.
All images courtesy of the Parramatta Eels, NRL.com and Getty Images.
 Crowd Figures from http://www.rugbyleagueproject.org/