I am not privy to the Brumbies’ financial position but the lack of crowd numbers to their home games must be hurting the bottom-line and is surely not sustainable.
Just 6311 fans turned out last Friday night at Canberra Stadium, bringing the season average to 8332. Compare this to the Raiders: they played the following day in front of a crowd of 14,647.
It is not just people going to one-off games as paying spectators, but there appears to be a downturn in corporate hospitality and membership.
It hasn’t always been the case.
I well remember the days when the Raiders struggled to get people to games especially during and in the aftermath of Super League. At that same time, the Brumbies had huge support.
But unlike the Raiders, who had the financial safety net of News Limited followed by the Queanbeyan Leagues Club and a substantial television deal, the Brumbies appear to have neither. They are highly reliant on crowd numbers and corporate support.
So where to for the Brumbies given what I suspect is an unsustainable situation?
First, it’s important to identify the reasons why people have turned away from not only the Brumbies, but also the code in general in Australia.
One of the main factors, I believe, is the lack of visibility. There is no free-to-air television coverage of the games. There is little in the way of ‘in your face’ marketing, and there is still a perception in Canberra that the team is struggling on the field. This is clearly not the case.
The problem is that people in Canberra, if they don’t have pay television and aside from news stories, have virtually no idea who the players are or who the teams are that they are playing against. Many people have told me they don’t know that games are on, particularly with the media market saturated with AFL and NRL coverage.
When the Brumbies and Super 12 started, the marketing was outstanding and the game day was an experience. It would appear that there has been a dramatic reduction in the marketing and game day budget since then.
That is not necessarily the fault of the Brumbies. Rugby Australia needs to provide more funding to clubs to lift the marketing and profile of game days. But given Rugby Australia’s well-documented budget woes, that won’t be happening any time soon. It would also appear the fortunes of the Wallabies has a direct impact on overall interest in the code.
Another issue, which I have spoken about previously, is the apparent disconnect between the grassroots and the Brumbies. I have endeavoured to get to the heart of the underlying issues here and it would appear as though it is not one issue in particular but a gradual decline in trust and goodwill.
It ranges from the lack of funding to clubs from the sale of the Griffith Headquarters to the perception that the Brumbies games have too much of a corporate feel about it. The latter is interesting, as many have told me that going to the Brumbies games in the past was as much about being with friends and socialising as it was about the game itself.
The sacking of coaches, taking the ACT off the team name, the cost of food and parking, the stadium itself, the ticket price increase, forced seat changes, and the public and costly spat with former CEO Michael Jones hasn’t helped.
There is also frustration from fans over pedantic officiating with scrums continually re-set and the confusing conference system.
There are also many misguided issues including the perception that the team isn’t doing well, the lack of local players, and the style of play. The Brumbies have worked their way to the top of the Australian conference by blooding locally bred players and sticking to their mantra of attacking rugby.
From my point of view, the Brumbies have worked hard to change the public perception of the team, although the profile of the players outside of the rugby community remains low. Perhaps they need to return to the practice of earlier days, when every player was available to the media every day of the week? It worked back then.
It is obvious that many issues are at play here. A successful Wallabies campaign at the World Cup has the potential to ignite interest in the code, coupled with the proposed new indoor stadium in Civic.
The worry I have is that the Brumbies may not have the time to wait for things to turn around, which is why we need to rally behind the team before it is too late. We don’t want to be left to reminisce the same way we do about the Comets, the Cosmos and the Cannons.