Jeff
Wall writes:

Peter Costello is not alone in being
accused of hubris today. The National Rugby League has had to swallow large
slices of humble pie over its predictions about record attendances this season.

The NRL has confirmed that average crowds
after 18 rounds of the premiership are down by almost 10%, and,
worryingly, 12 of the 15 clubs have recorded a drop in attendances at home
games.

And the biggest falls have been recorded by
a mix of Sydney and non-Sydney teams. The New Zealand Warriors’ crowds are down
by an average 4,500 a match, or 34%. The Panthers and the Roosters are
down by around 23%, and the Sharks have suffered a 21% fall.
Big falls have also been recorded by the Canberra Raiders, the Bulldogs and
the Eels.

Even the Broncos and the Cowboys are down
by around 6%, though the Broncos continue to have easily the highest
average home game attendance – 28,405.

The only really good news crowd-wise comes
from the Newcastle Knights with a 20% lift in attendances. The figures
for Melbourne Storm (up 10%) are dodgy – as the exaggeration of the
Storm’s home crowd figures has been commented on by more than one reporter
covering their games at Olympic Park. Even if the 10% rise is
accurate, it is from a very low base of 8,800 last year.

But even more dodgy are the figures for the
Sydney Rabbitohs, the short price favourites for the 2006 wooden spoon. The
average Rabbitohs home crowd is allegedly 11,956, down just 72 on last year.
Nobody I have spoken to believes the figures for the Rabbitohs home games at
their new home, Telstra Stadium, are accurate.

There are reasons why the attendances at
several venues have fallen. The Panthers had to play their first seven games
away from their home game, CUA Stadium, while it was upgraded, and the loss of
four points even before the season started hardly helped the Warriors.

But it is a worrying trend, and one that can
cannot alone be put down to the reason given by the NRL CEO, David Gallop, who
puts the drop down to “under achievers” like the Roosters and the Eels. That is
only part of the story.

The feedback I get from Crikey readers, and
elsewhere, is that the cost of taking a family to the football has just become
too much of a burden – and it’s not just the admission fees. The cost of soft
drinks, and food, at most grounds – and especially the major stadiums – is, to
put it bluntly, outrageous.

It will be fascinating to watch how the NRL
deals with this looming crisis at season’s end.

Peter Fray

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