All eyes in the (rugby league) world will be on the Parramatta Eels versus South Sydney Rabbitohs match tonight as the Eels try to re-start their faltering 2016 season.
The Parramatta Eels and the NT government have both provided fans of the slow-moving-train-wreck school of governance with no end of sport over the past four years. And the links between the club and the NT government extend beyond self-inflicted mishaps.
Parramatta was the wooden-spooner in the NRL competition in 2012 and 2013 and didn’t improve much on that in the years following. And 2016 — until the salary cap scandal broke out in recent weeks — had them travelling well in fifth spot, with a 6-3 win-loss record.
The Northern Territory Country Liberal Party government kicked off well in August 2012 with a come-from-behind win that promised much but its time in government — as has been chronicled here and elsewhere — has been scarred by bitter in-fighting, on and off the field, and poor results.
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August 2016 will be a crucial month for both Parramatta and the CLP. By then we’ll know if Parramatta will fail to make the NRL play-offs yet again — as it has since 2009 — and whether the CLP will become yet another one-term government.
We will also have a better idea by August as to the value for money that NT taxpayers are getting for an extraordinary deal that has had the NT government pump $4 million over four years into Parramatta for two rugby league games a year (one pre-season) and associated community engagement, coaching clinics and school visits.
NT Chief Minister Adam Giles is a big fan of the Parramatta Eels and the August 2013 arrangement between Parramatta and the NT government is said to be a purely commercial deal, which promotes NT tourism and business in what they claim to be the country’s third-biggest market: western Sydney. However, the value of the deal to the NT is questionable, particularly in light of current events.
Parramatta may be the most incompetent and unstable sporting franchise in Australia. When the NRL announced it was proposing to strip them of 12 competition points and fine them $1 million for salary cap breaches, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg stated:
“In the last seven years, this club has had 25 directors, six CEOs and four head coaches … They have breached the salary cap rules in five of the last six years. As we sit here today, our preliminary findings suggest that the club is again over the salary cap for 2016. This has to stop. It stops today.”
An unkind observer might note that the Parramatta Eels are the only show in town with more reshuffles and coups than the NT’s Country Liberal Party.
The internal turmoil at Parramatta is well known to the NT government. In late 2015, Chief Minister Adam Giles threatened to drop the deal with the Eels because of governance concerns — what he then described as the “negative aspects that have often been spoken about with the Parramatta Eels”.
Giles soon backflipped on those comments and despite governance at Parramatta lurching into unmitigated chaos — the chairman, CEO and three others are now suspended — the NT government appears to have circled the wagons around the continuing partnership with the Eels, denying that the deal with Parramatta was under review.
In a marked contrast to Giles’ comments to The Sydney Morning Herald in August 2015, NT Sports Minister Nathan Barrett told The Northern Myth this week that:
“We want to see the deal extended and we’re in negotiations right now for an extension … It has nothing to do with the governance arrangements. The governance arrangements are a matter for the club and the NRL and I will leave that with them.”
Part of the reason for the NT government’s nonchalance may be that they’re in too deep financially to wriggle out now.
To put the NT government’s $1 million annual payments into perspective, it is useful to look at the Eel’s current major sponsorship deal with Dyldam, property developers from Sydney.
Dyldam coughs up for jersey sleeve sponsorship, the shirt-front on the Eels jersey and naming rights for the team. How much does all of that cost Dyldam? It is difficult to get a precise figure but, in 2013, Sports Business Insider reported that Dyldam and UNIBET were two new major sponsors for the Eels from 2014, “in a deal worth over $1 million a season”.
It is not clear how the money is split between Dyldam and UNIBET, but Fairfax journalists Adrian Proszenko and Daniel Lane concluded that Dyldam was paying less than the NT government is each year.
Proszenko and Lane said that “it would be a disaster for the club” if the NT government ended the highly lucrative arrangement.
From an NT taxpayer’s perspective, the real cost to the NT of the arrangement is even higher — and may be set to grow.
The NT government spent between $2.8 and $3.3 million upgrading Anzac Oval in Alice Springs through 2013-14, in large part to bring the facility up to NRL competition standard to host the annual pre-season game for the Eels. This year’s game attracted a modest crowd of about 2800. The Darwin mid-season game attracts a larger but nonetheless underwhelming crowd, usually around 8000.
Despite the significant investment in facilities in Alice Springs, the NT government is now looking to move the annual Eels pre-season game elsewhere.
*Read the rest at The Northern Myth