Through no one’s fault, the price of bananas has collapsed. There will be a furious gnashing of teeth, much shaking of fists, tears, threats, furious pointing at contracts, lawyers at 50 paces – all of it mixed with press releases from the NRL saying, “Yet we really love each other!” – but, I repeat, the money flowing to the NRL in the AP world, will be nothing like it was in the BP world.
Much the same dynamic applies in rugby union, although I suspect it will be a lot worse, as the value of broadcast rights for a losing Wallabies side and a Super Rugby competition most had lost interest in were drifting well before the plague came along.
I think you can see where I am going with this, yes?
Exactly! Right to Fleetwood Mac!
Oh come on, stay with me. See, this week I got an interesting email from John Murray the stockbroker/entrepreneur who is president of Easts Rugby Club. He is one of the two blokes who bought the broadcast rights to the Shute Shield four years ago, and is half-credited with resuscitating the competition. (If anyone cares, the other half was the bloke who manages my electronic media commitments, Nick Fordham.)
In the email, Murray says the best thing to happen to rugby will be that reduction of revenue, just as the best thing that happened to the band led by Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood was the collapse of music revenue through the sale of CDs and the like. In the modern world, where you can get pretty much any music you like for just about free, what did it mean? It meant that to continue to get the big bucks, bands such as Fleetwood Mac had to go back on the road and RECONNECT with fans at concerts. And not just the Mac …
“So many bands have had to get off their collective arses and go back touring,” he writes, “because there is less money selling the music – the big money is now in filling stadiums. And these shows aren’t just a couple of specks in the distance lip-syncing former hits – these are kick-arse, venue-packing, pyrotechnic events.”
Fleetwood Mac’s recent tour earned $100 million in sales, KISS did much the same and even Bob Seger grabbed more than $50 million.
“No one was left demanding a refund,” Murray wrote, “and there were hundreds of thousands of satisfied fans, repeat, satisfied fans.”
Murray’s point is that because of huge broadcast revenues the football codes, most particularly rugby union, didn’t need to fill stadiums and so, bit by bit, lost that crucial connection with the people.
“Full stadiums do a few things, apart from the obvious impact on gate receipts,” he wrote. “Full stadiums legitimise a sport, showing other fans they are part of something worthwhile (just as empty stadiums damage a sport). Full stadiums create an atmosphere that helps lift players to achieve exceptional things and full stadiums remind sponsors why they are involved. The final point about full stadiums is that you become the master of your own destiny – you can dictate game times and schedules. Ironically, full stadiums also eventually lead to increased broadcast rights!”
For Murray, the disaster of the coronavirus might actually be the thing to get rugby back on the right track – and by extension the NRL.
“If you or I had a friend whose life was in tatters because of drug addiction, surely we would suggest rehab? Difficult, brutal, depravation, but the only long-term solution. I see rugby the same way.”
When rugby does come back, it could look at doing what he and Fordham did with the Shute Shield. That is, focus, above all, on giving fans a great game-day experience, and the rest will sort itself.
Murray: “Here are some radical and not so radical, ZERO COST ideas that might work:
- Remove all corporate boxes: this will force us to make sure game day is so good we no longer want to hide from it!
- Partner with a radio network all for contra (it works) and get them (professionals) to help lift in-game entertainment. They will also promote the game in the lead-up.
- Partner with a large bar group to show how parts of the ground can be turned into amazing bar experiences.
- Offer the fans prizes for being at each game from sponsors offering their products. Add a members-only draw as well.
All up, Murray says, the key is to do as Fleetwood Mac did, make sure giving every fan who turns up a great experience is the primary focus, not a secondary consideration.
“Rugby is a fantastic product and represents incredible values throughout 859 clubs in Australia,” he wrote. “By focusing on amplifying the resurgence of grassroots rugby, making game day the best event you’ve been to and helping bring the game to a wider audience – to quote the late, great Darrell Eastlake, rugby could be HUGE and well on the way to making a full recovery.”
I think he’s on to something.
Peter FitzSimons is a journalist and columnist with The Sydney Morning Herald.