Round 2 of the 2014 NRL Telstra premiership draw was members round and we certainly had some tremendous football to celebrate.
We saw the Roosters back to their best as well as a sensational tussle between the Penrith Panthers and the Melbourne Storm, with the Panthers falling at the last hurdle. Dragons fans will be delighted with the way their team is performing while Tigers fans will be hoping that their performance on Sunday is a sign of things to come for the rest of the season.
Last week, the focus in mainstream media seemed to be on crowds. How poor the NRL crowds were and how the NRL can improve crowds. Ladies who League featured 3 stories on the topic, ‘An open letter to Richard Hinds‘, ‘How to get bottoms on seats‘, and ‘NRL Ticket Prices‘ (if you haven’t had time to check them out, please do). It seems that almost everyone has an opinion on what the NRL is doing wrong.
We can talk about ticket prices, the lack of half time entertainment and poor scheduling, but in the end, the way to ensure that we keep getting people to watch NRL live, is to increase our membership bases.
You will understand my confusion then as I watched the football this weekend, because I found it a little bit odd that on the weekend that we celebrated members round, there was very little focus on well… the members. In a sporting era where memberships are vital, I would have liked to see more focus on the members this weekend. Perhaps for all the teams having home games on the weekend, the members could have been invited onto the field before the game to do a lap of honour with the players. Perhaps the clubs could have interviewed members in the lead up to the games. Perhaps the NRL could have run an advertising campaign with members to highlight just how important they are.
This lack of focus on the members this weekend was also a little bit confusing, because I have been seeing so much media about increasing memberships.
As of March 14, the club with the most members was the South Sydney Rabbitohs, with 28,169. Most clubs had between 10,000 and 15,000 members. The Parramatta Eels and the Canterbury Bulldogs are currently in a race to see which Club can get to 20,000 members first.
Members are the absolute backbone of the NRL and it is crucial that each club recognises how important members are for their continuing viability. In an era where well over 75% of the NRL clubs are operating at a financial loss, the financial contribution of members cannot be underestimated.
Each club will tell you that their members are important and that each club works tremendously hard throughout the season to increase their membership base. However, over the past few days I have been thinking about membership and how attitudes towards membership can change.
The AFL does significantly better in terms of membership than the NRL clubs. While I hate making comparisons, perhaps the NRL can learn something from the AFL.
It seems to me that culturally, membership is something which is more integral to the AFL than the NRL. Most supporters of AFL clubs seem to accept that signing up to become a member is an integral part of supporting a team. In the NRL we do not seem to have this mentality.
In the NRL, the approach of most clubs to get more members seems to be increasing value for money and trying to give the fan something in return for their membership. While this is of course important, perhaps there needs to be more emphasis on why becoming a member of a club is important. Perhaps the importance of the financial contribution members make needs to be highlighted more and perhaps people need to know why their club will not survive without them signing up to be a member.
One more comment – this morning Phil Gould has written a piece on why we need to play more games at big stadiums. You can check that piece out here.
I have to strongly disagree with Phil in this article, because I think he has got it wrong. Before we move games to big stadiums, we need to increase our membership base. There is no point in sending games to bigger stadiums so that teams can run out in front of 14,000. It should be members first, big stadiums later. It’s not enough for the NRL to anticipate that 40,000 people will want to attend say a Dragons v Eels game. It’s not enough for the NRL to ask people to turn up. When each club has a membership base of 20,000 and the suburban grounds are no longer big enough to cater for these members, that’s when we need to think about moving games to ANZ Stadium – not before.