By Bobas at Green and Gold Rugby
Australia has a relatively low population for the number of popular male ‘national’ sports: the various football codes and cricket. This inevitably causes a high level of competition among them for fans and finance. Other countries recognise that possible changes in these sports may be seen first in Australia. “Because the sporting marketplace in this country is so competitive, any trends – good or bad – in the global game manifest themselves here first.” This article will look (in depth) at the health of Australia’s main male team sporting codes, suggest the turning points the codes will have to negotiate on the way and then predict where they will be in ten years time.
Australia has four “football” codes and cricket. For argument’s sake, none of these sports will be referred to as just football, but for the record Soccer has more claim to the name than any other sport.
Despite chronic problems with player behaviour Australian Rugby League is in a very healthy state at the moment in terms of fans and interest but there are always questions over the financial stability of its NRL clubs. The NRL is where most of the interest stems from and unless it can come up with some real solutions to these problems (not merging teams or letting Russell buy them, but real financial planning) we might see an NBL like collapse in the NRL, although if that was to happen it would have to be from worse decision making than Jamie Packer in Vegas.
- They recently dodged a bullet having John Howard decline a job opportunity in the sport, if he’d have accepted I certainly would have boycotted.
- A Kangaroos v Wallaby yearly exhibition match will give both codes a boost. Half of each game with cheap tickets at ANZ stadium. Rugby League will get a taste for real international competition and publicity.
- Can someone fix player behaviour? Rugby league needs to fix this ongoing problem and fast. There is no place in Australia’s future for assault of any kind against women, fans will boycott and lawsuits in this current financial crisis will cripple the sport. Young players are getting taught about sexual relationships and respect for women by the internet porn industry and steps need to be taken to address this.
- Can there be competition internationally, other than the occasional upset from New Zealand or England? Australia doesn’t have any other nation capable of matching them. If there was competition from even a third or fourth team we could really see the rugby league world cup take off. More money needs to be sent to develop Pacific Island nations teams, but weather this will happen remains to be seen.
A slight drop in percentage popularity as international competition will not improve enough in the next ten years. The game is a good product for the public but I doubt it will improve from the position it is in at the moment. State of Origin will always be one of the ‘must see’ Australian Sporting events of the year and hence the game will always be a super power of Australian sport.
Aussie Rules certainly isn’t in decline but is running out of ideas to keep itself as number one in terms of fans. It does not have the same behavioural issues as rugby league but really suffers from no international matches at all. Apart from a few gae (Gaelic Football) matches against Ireland, aussie rules doesn’t really get much international coverage.
Recently aussie rules has taken to signing a high profile rugby league player (Mike Hunt) in a bid to get the east coast of Australia tuning into some games.
- When all eyes are on Mike Hunt’s debut in the sport it needs to be able to show a good game. Even if he’s not a great player to start with no one is going to respect a blow out 150-35 score line.
- Aussie Rules needs to get some form of ‘State of Origin’ up and running. Fans would love to see representative teams go head to head and could be the annual showpiece of the sport as it is in rugby league. A Victoria v Larger States might work well.
Aussie rules will still have its place in Australian sport but I expect a slight decrease in the percentage fan base. They will continue to get a lot of fans turning up to club games but unless they get a state of origin type annual match they will not attract enough new fans.
Australian Soccer is at the healthiest it has ever been. It does not look like it will plateau any time in the next year unless absolute disaster. Soccer in Australia has grown to this level because it’s “the world game” and has subsequently captured the imagination of many in the sporting public that love ‘rooting’ for the underdog .
The A league has also proved successful in its first few years because they broke down some ethnic barriers and produces a decent product for people to get behind.
- We made it into the World Cup Finals, but if we fail to win a game at the event I can imagine a lot of people will give up on the sport.
- We need to qualify for the next Asian Cup, as world cups are 4 years apart, qualification is extremely important to keep people interested between those times.
- Mass exodus of players after the South African world cup. Superstars like Schwarzter, Kewell and Cahill may all hang up their boots after next years finals and we have no one to replace the fan base they bring. Schwartzer has been called Benjamin Button because of the ability to age like a fine wine but playing in his 40’s may prove too much for him. Kewell said he would kick on due to injuries stifling his late 20’s but another injury in his 30’s may force him to give it up. Cahill seems the logical person to ‘kick on’ and keep interest levels high through to the following world cup.
- Will Australia get a soccer world cup (either stage one or win one)? Probably not, but if they do it could well become our most popular sport. This is probably the reason why the FFA is fighting so hard to host a WC in the near future.
Unless we somehow get the World Cup before this date I see Australian Soccer peeking in Popularity at the 2011 South African World Cup, then plateau to the 2013 Asian Cup, where I think most ‘superstars’ will retire. Then a slow but steady drop as our national team becomes weaker and qualification into the tournaments becomes harder against opposition where we are seen as the favourites.
The A-league will slowly decrease in popularity over the next ten years as those who watch it know if the players were better they’d be playing overseas.
Cricket is Australia ‘National Sport’ and has really done well for its self in recent times including a shortened format of the game. Australia has always pulled in the fans at home, and I think the domestic teams are on the brink of doing likewise as they have proven themselves of the highest quality in the recent club challenge, where both Australian teams who entered played off in the semi and the Blues went on to win the whole tournament.
- Australia need to build up characters in the public eye: Gilly, McGrath and Warne have moved on and Australia really need players with some personality. Katich winning Master Chef is a fine example of what I’m talking about.
- Marketing for the Big Bash (T20 domestic comp) has got to get bigger every year. The Blues play at ANZ stadium and plans should be to fill that up, even if it means giving schools free tickets and reducing adult ticket prices to the cost of a stadium beer.
With the amount of cricket being played at the moment Australia will always have some successes and losses during the years to come. Cricket in Australia will become more popular in the following years as the game is adapting to what the public wants. Expect to see changes to the 50 over format!
5. Rugby Union.
The most unhealthy of the codes in this article, Rugby Union is on a downward spiral as the game is becoming more kick/penalty orientated, no domestic team has made the finals in the super 14 and the Wallabies are struggling to match it with New Zealand and South Africa.
- This spring tour has got to be successful. Even if the Wallabies don’t produce a fairytale grand slam they have got to get the monkey off the back here and now and show the world and their fans that they’re still an exciting force to be reckoned with.
- Good advertising has got to be produced in the near future, I’m sick of seeing pathetic ads for the Wallabies or the Super 14 that don’t show the best parts of the sport. Rugby ads used to be exciting with the Matt Dunning intercept, the Steve Larkham drop goal, flick passes, big tackles, etc, etc. At the moment we have ads featuring Al Baxter, our most capped and penalised prop singing the national anthem. Whoever makes the ads should actually be a rugby fan. All the codes mentioned have good ads, except for the cricketers who have KFC all meals of the day.
- Need players to look up to. Like the cricket team, the wallabies have lost their superstar players recently, no Gregan, no Larkham. These are players who would do anything to win and their pride and courage need to be taken up and noticed by others in the team. I never saw them demanding $2.5k each ($31.25 a minute) for a trail match.
- A Kangaroos v Wallaby yearly exhibition match will give both codes a boost. Half of each game with cheap tickets at ANZ stadium. Rugby Union will get a chance to display their sport to a large amount of league only fans and hopefully have them appreciate the sport that their game originated from.
- The Super 15 in 2011, needs a real product rethink. The game needs to be simpler, with more running rugby and more tries scored (this could be as simple as changing referees interpretations of the laws). The TV rights need to be addressed as some matches should be shown on free to air, it can’t be Fox exclusive again because no new people will choose to watch it.
- The game on display at the 2011 WC needs to be exciting running rugby, rugby can’t afford a 15-6 all penalty final again. The Wallabies will need to go into the WC as underdogs and punch above their weight, we can’t peak too early.
A strong end to this year and a super 14 title in 2010 to the Brumbies will start a gradual climb for the code. The Code will then only keep climbing if the suggested turning points are addressed properly.
These codes are weather you like it or not businesses and hence need to be run with the ‘consumers’ (the fans) as a top priority. In Australia we have the most competition for fans (and that’s why other countries look to us for their future trends), and although one fan can support two things at once, they are always going to pump more money into their favourite. Some codes are currently taking steps in the right direction, such as Cricket and Soccer. Some at least look like they’re trying, like Aussie Rules and Rugby League. But still ‘others’ need to draw a line in the sand and ‘unite’ as their name suggest move forward and really show the fans what they can do for them!