The rugby league community has always looked upon the AFL with a sense of crowd envy. Regular crowds in the tens of thousands, especially at the MCG, has given the AFL a sense of superiority, even arrogance, which it has lorded over the NRL in a less than endearing manner.
The NRL community has always been self-conscious about it, and has overreacted to AFL forays into NRL heartland in somewhat of an unhinged manner – the media, mostly, then transferred to a fired up fan base.
This is unfortunate, because it’s only by recognising shortcomings and formulating positive strategies to combat them, that any of us, individuals or institutions, can grow and improve. And the NRL has a lot of positives that should be focused and improved upon (which I never tire of pointing out), rather than become lost in a maelstrom of introversion and closing ranks.
It has also meant that the NRL hasn’t, in my opinion, been open-minded enough to consider adopting rules from the AFL (the enemy) that would actually prove beneficial, such as time off when the ball is out of bounds, in AFL parlance. We’re getting there in baby steps, but we’re still not cropping the best of the best from other codes.
One part of the AFL playbook the NRL will be advised NOT to emulate, however, at any point, is its boneheaded variable pricing model. In a story to warm the cockles of an NRL fan’s heart, the AFL is on the nose with its own crowds.
And why? Well it’s not specifically about the football.
It’s because fans without memberships are being asked to pay through the nose for the pleasure of watching the best teams play.
So not only has the AFL’s arrogance been projected toward other sports, but it has now been applied like a blowtorch to its own fans who, understandably feel betrayed. Can’t affrd a membership on top of all life’s other commitments? Well bad luck, peasant. You’ll have just pay more to watch your team so we can get our pound of flesh from you. You owe us!
What the AFL has failed to realise it that any ticket pricing system must be adapted to suit local conditions. After all, this isn’t US Major League Baseball, where not only are conditions and support bases different, but so is the pool of fans from which to draw.
It’s complete madness. It’s a complete and utter gouge. But money has no morals, and the pursuit of it has the habit of driving some people insane.
So when NRL CEO David Smith announces a deep dive into the pricing of tickets and game day experience, which includes the expensive slop that can loosely be termed food, he and his team will be well advised to avoid looking at the AFL at all, even as a comparison! There’s no value in it, from their perspective, only noise.
Here’s a better version they might like to look at that focuses on crowd maximisation in the context of a much fairer variable pricing structure. It tiers the pricing according to the viewing position, enabling those who can’t afford current pricing the opportunity to still attend matches and experience the unrivalled atmosphere of a pumping crowd.
The best thing? Apart from improved atmosphere for the fans AND players, it is more likely to generate higher revenue through sheer numbers (with contingent benefits for the food & beverage suppliers, which is another subject that deserves intense scrutiny).