Today’s NRL press conference saw Peter V’landys and Todd Greenberg confirm that plans to play Round 2 of the NRL Premiership behind closed doors will proceed. However, the enormity of the crisis and the necessity to be fluid in responding to expert guidance hinted that the code could merely be treading water in a rapidly rushing tide.
So why continue to soldier on in the face of overwhelming odds?
The reason is simple and neither of the two backed away in responding.
The professional sport of rugby league faces an economic crisis on an unprecedented scale. A lengthy suspension of the season, a postponement or indeed an abandonment of the Premiership would be financially catastrophic.
We are probably correct in questioning how our code finds itself in such a precarious funding position. However, now is not the time for such reflection or finger pointing. The reality is harsh – the money does not exist and the NRL will not be able to weather an extended storm without government assistance.
Without question, a prolonged suspension of the season will have effects which extend far beyond the game itself.
V’landys and Greenberg referenced the value of sport in the social fabric of our country and they touched on the flow-on impact to those whose businesses are linked to every rugby league season.
Stadium contracts are already under pressure, and this extends to the incomes of caterers, security and match day staff. The flow-on reaches businesses, small and large.
Broadcasters without sports products to offer will be impacted as subscribers potentially drop away. Our game is funded by broadcast rights. Such matters cannot be ignored.
And on that point of revenue streams, besides broadcasting, sponsorships, match day and merchandise all being impacted, there are also the clubs who are funded by more traditional means. Clubs supported by licensed clubs are going to face enormous challenges. Trading in licensed venues will face downturns if not complete restrictions.
So, what about us? The punters, the loyal supporters and members who are also vital to the NRL – what can we do?
There will be those far more qualified than I am who will have some answers, but for now the advice is surely the same as that given to the entire population.
To that I suggest that we remain strong as members. Don’t demand refunds on your membership. If the season is suspended, clubs will look at ways of ensuring that the value of your membership is delivered – whether it be this year or by extended benefits in following seasons.
If you are not financially impacted by this pandemic and can afford to maintain your subscriptions, don’t cancel them. The game requires such partners.
Furthermore, with financial aid and the support of the punters, there are provisions in the NRL contracts for extended or abbreviated seasons or mid week games. If we can play our part in staying strong, there will be solutions.
Obviously our country and all of its citizens are facing problems far greater than saving professional sport. Individually, there will be those dealing with the consequence of serious illness. There will be those whose livelihood may not recover. Being responsible in our actions and our words and helping where we can will undoubtedly go a long way towards limiting the strain placed on our communities.
However, for those whose lives and livelihood are intertwined with the football codes that we love, I’d hope that we consider how remaining calm and supportive will help.
Eels and NRL forever!
Craig Hawkins (Sixties)