Taking the Country out of City-Country

Coffs Harbour’s BCU International Stadium is promoted as being a “first class sporting facility hosting local, regional, national and international sporting events.”

“As one of Coffs Harbour’s most valuable and best used assets, BCU International Stadium caters for a range of sport and entertainment, providing an international standard facility.”Sydney Swan v St Kilda AFL Match 12 March 2011

The City Council website also boasts seating for 20,000 spectators as one of the stadium’s key attributes.

So you can imagine how surprising it was to find out that the crowd that for this annual event was just 4,645. If someone had simply read the crowd number aloud, my natural response would have been to say it was a shame about the first set, but is the second on serve? And was this a smaller or larger crowd than the one attending the Australian Sikh Games in 2009?

What can we learn from such a poor turnout, other than some sections of the media have only just discovered a crowd problem?

Clearly, most of the local markets had finished by 2pm, so they weren’t direct competition for the Coffs dollar, though the Annual Exhibition of Fine Woodwork didn’t finish until 4pm, so the jury might still be out.

Recent posts on improving rugby league crowd numbers, as well as where the annual City-Country fixture actually sits within the game, have proven extremely timely.

While those on the City side of the equation have been debating the validity of the concept in an unedifying and self-absorbed way for weeks now, country residents had a chance to respond in numbers. The fact that they didn’t is a major concern. Like the Wagga example from last week where the NRL allowed the AFL a five year window to ingratiate themselves with the locals, it’s easy to understand the country’s disaffection brought about by questioning the game’s value, and which manifested in yesterday’s today’s crowd.

At its most base level, City-Country is the recognition of country rugby league as a nursery for the great players of yesteryear and today, as well as the issue of propagating the game. It is a useful vehicle for assessing Origin potential (and Hoffman, Mason, Reynolds and Maloney took advantage of that), but that is a secondary benefit.

Ticket prices were another factor. They were entirely inappropriate for residents of waterfront Sydney Harbour, let alone Coffs Harbour. And there are no investment bankers up there either. Paying $75 for a family general admission ticket is preposterous when the Anzac Day match at Allianz Stadium is $55. A $50 uncovered seat dubbed ‘the Eastern Stand’ is a bit rich. The only people getting a bargain were those under four years of age (or Shahid Afridi with a dodgy birth certificate).

The ends of the field were also sparsely populated ...

The ends of the field were also sparsely populated …

Further, the promotion of the event was hijacked by negative publicity and player withdrawals. This latter point was discussed last week, but the point remains that the NRL did not do enough to counteract it. When sightings of the two most powerful NRL/ARLC officials are on a par with those of Elvis, you know there’s a problem.

If the NRL can’t nurture its own constituency, one questions how they hope to enhance and grow the game. From the micro issues relating to the rules of the game, moving through best business practices and onto the macro issues of expanding the game, the NRL and ARLC are falling woefully short.

In the NRL there is a well understood concept that teams have to ‘earn the right’ to spin the ball wide by laying a solid foundation in the middle of the park. The NRL might do well to keep their management practices equally simple, rather than banging on about jumping castles and off-field entertainment.

Those who actually understand economics appreciate that demand leads supply, not the reverse. Likewise, the best business managers understand that they need to listen to their customers, and then respond. Providing something nobody wants gets nobody very far.

The public are sending messages to the NRL and ARLC, but they’re not listening.

It’s a shame to have to always repeat that the game succeeds despite itself, but there you go, I just did it again. The problem is that there are clearer and more present dangers for the NRL with respect to competition for the sporting dollar. They can’t mismanage this way forever.

T’is a sad day …

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3 thoughts on “Taking the Country out of City-Country

  1. I’m not sure what effect it had on the crowd at Coffs, but showing the game (delayed) at the same time as the A-League Grand Final (live), contested by two NSW-based sides, was madness.

    • Hi Delpy, nice to see you back. Any upcoming blogs?

      Yep, prices and timing. Massive (but easily preventable) mistakes and proof that two wrongs don’t make a right!

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