29 May 2019

Is this crisis time for the Brumbies? Why we need to support our team

| Tim Gavel
Join the conversation
Brumbies at Canberra Stadium last week. Photo: Tim Gavel.

Brumbies in action against the Bulls at Canberra Stadium. Photo: Tim Gavel.

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.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Yes, well put Tim. It is disturbing. My take on it is:
1. It is unpleasant at the ground at night. Way too cold for these 70yo bones. I go when they play in the afternoon but no longer will go in the evening.
2. If we could watch games on free-to-air it would kindle a lot more interest and familiarity with players.
3. My tribal instincts are such that I would like to know who the other tribes are. The Blues, the Bulls, the Cheetahs, and so on… who are they? Where do they represent?
4. Allow spectators to move more freely and find better seats. If seats in good spots are unoccupied then let others go there. I have been in spots on the ground (like behind the corner post) where I seem to spend my time looking at the big screen rather than the game at hand – not a good experience
5. I know it is the thing these days to be parochial but I think many take it too far and should be encouraged to applaud good play by opponents

liberalsocialist6:29 pm 30 May 19

If only they marketed half as much on ACT buses as Brindabella Christian College spent, then the visibility would be there

Firstly, the positives… The Brumbies this year have played some brilliant rugby. Dan McKellar and the coaching team have come up with adaptable game plans to suit the teams they’ve played and we’ve seen excellent backline moves, great work from the forwards and defence is probably the best in the comp.

There are young homegrown Canberrans coming through like Ryan Lonergan, Tom Ross and Mack Hansen. The development is good and being invested in our own as well as marquee players from elsewhere. There has been real depth to cover injuries.

However, we can’t pull a decent crowd. I wonder whether the Brumbies are connecting with school age rugby like they used to? And what about the clubs? Put an emergency call out for attendance.

Match day experience: The food is overpriced and appalling. The hot chips gave my friend, his son and me food poisoning two years ago. Someone the other night told me they were much better now so I bought some and was sick again. Whoever is in charge of playing the music this year is destroying the already subdued atmosphere with bizarre song choices. “You’ve had a bad day” after we lost??? Lionel Ritchie and Def Leppard??? Come on!

We’ve had one afternoon game which started at 4pm so we have an hour of sunshine then everyone is freezing. How about more games at 2pm?? The NRL can manage it.

I would call on every one of the 6000 people who attended last game to invite four friends who don’t normally go. If those people turn up and see what we’ve all seen the last several games, it may just remind them of the Brumbies of old. I certainly will be inviting as many people as I can to the Reds match.

Capital Retro11:04 am 29 May 19

Addressing the headline “Why We Need to Support Our Team” is a bit of a misnomer because Canberra ratepayers already do whether we like it or not.

If financial support from the government through doing sweetheart deals with major sponsors dries up, the Brumbies will cease to exist.

I used to play rugby but I lost interest as a spectator when business got involved and the rules started to change. It’s such a boring spectacle now and all it is is watching well paid men (and now women) at work.

While a stadium would no doubt be helpful, there is no way that a new stadium will fix the current woes of the Brumbies. There seems to be a renewed view in the world that it is as simple as ‘build it and they will come’ – but I strongly doubt that would be the case. Not doubting it would improve things to some degree, but probably not to make a huge difference, if the on field product doesn’t improve. And that’s before the enormous cost to the government of building one is factored into it. For we all know the football codes will put a sum of zero into the upfront costs.

The Brumbies seem to be in the beginnings of a death spiral, as the broader Super Rugby competition seems to be. Without some major turnaround very soon, I feel they won’t last more then a few seasons more – but again I feel the same thing more broadly with the competition,.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.