Buzz: Let’s talk expansion, starting with Brisbane
At some stage in the near future the NRL needs to fast forward to the difficult conversation about expansion and, more importantly, the long-term future and sustainability of nine Sydney clubs.
In two years the governing body will enter negotiations with TV networks and live streaming services for the next broadcasting deal. The current contract ends in 2022.
The reason for the urgency is that you need certainty around the product before you go to market.
We're raising the topic again today because it's an issue that has to be addressed not only for the broadcast deal but to give potential new franchises the opportunity to properly prepare.
Last week your columnist visited the magnificent new $30 million Broncos centre of excellence in Brisbane. From the moment you walk in on the ground floor it hits you … the Sydney clubs cannot possibly compete against this sort of professionalism.
Their set-up is out of this world.
The Broncos have $14.5 million worth of sponsors. The Cronulla Sharks had none until they snared a $1 million jersey sponsor over the weekend.
The Broncos have 30,000 members - the highest in the league - spending on average $200 per head for another $6 million in revenue. On top of that they get the NRL grant of $12 million.
Their business now turns over well north of $50 million each year.
The Broncos have a city of 2.5 million to themselves and the best rugby league stadium in the southern hemisphere.
Plus the best high-performance centre I have seen in this country.
Sydney has nine clubs in a population of five million.
What became obvious during the visit north of the border is that Brisbane needs a second team.
Even the Broncos' highly regarded chief executive Paul White said: "The city's big enough and it's growing.
"Competition and competitiveness drive innovation. I support the growth of our game and having a future direction beyond the next five-year cycle."
The Broncos are superbly run and leave a lot of the Sydney clubs looking like they are almost stuck in the chook raffle days.
It's chalk and cheese and the gap is only increasing.
The Broncos even have a sponsor for their training balls.
The commercial department got a copy of every edition of last year's Courier Mail newspaper and printed copies of the pages where the training ball was photographed.
They took a big fat folder into the market and received $200,000 just for the football.
Their major sponsorship with NRMA is said to be worth almost $2 million a year, which is almost double what most of their Sydney rivals get for the same position on their jerseys.
Importantly, the aim shouldn't be to weaken the Broncos. They are the benchmark.
Rivals clubs, particularly those in Sydney, need to lift their own games.
As White said: "I don't think the game can sustain a competition with more than 16 teams.
"There are some telling indicators in that a number of Sydney clubs are struggling."
So the conversation needs to happen. Not next year, but now.
To cut a Sydney team would be a highly dangerous move.
We saw what happened when that was tried on the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Yet there are now 142 elite sporting franchises in Australia competing for the corporate dollar. We're talking Supercars, Big Bash, all forms of male and female cricket, netball, league, union, AFL, soccer, basketball etc, etc.
It's a tough ask for a suburban rugby league team to survive in this market.