This article was first written for and published for NRL.com.
Todd Greenberg has been encouraging all of us to #NRLTalkTheGameUp and for all of us, as fans and advocates, to share our positive stories and experiences about the game we love so much.
Our game is not perfect and just like many other sports has some challenges to overcome. But the size of NRL crowds is certainly not the challenge it is always made out to be.
It’s very easy to look at one-off crowds and suggest the NRL has a problem, particularly when less than 6000 people were at the clash between Manly and Newcastle at Lottoland last Friday night.
That to me doesn’t sound like a crisis. It sounds fairly positive, particularly when you couple that with total television audiences in Round 8 being 4.6 million, up 10 per cent on the corresponding round last season.
It’s very easy to see low crowd numbers and automatically assume going to the footy is an expensive exercise, particularly when you have a family.
But I’ve noticed, particularly this year the clubs are working hard to try and make the footy as affordable as possible for fans while juggling the competing demands of trying to make membership a compelling purchase for fans as well as balancing the costs of paying for suburban grounds.
Some of those fan friendly offers are on show this weekend.
If you are a Sydney Roosters fan or Sea Eagles fan, it is ‘Sunday Family Funday’ at Allianz Stadium and a $40 family ticket offer is available for pre-purchase via Ticketek right until kick-off. There is also a ‘Kids Eat Free’ initiative, where there will be a free sausage sizzle for kids under age 16. This offer will also be available up until kick-off (and I’ll take a wild guess that there might be some older kids, trying to pass themselves off as under 16 to get a sausage sanga).
Then there was also the major announcement at the start of the year involving the four Sydney clubs that play at ANZ Stadium – the Rabbitohs, Bulldogs, Eels and Wests Tigers.
For all 33 NRL regular-season games at ANZ Stadium, general admission tickets are available from $20 for an adult and $40 for a family on all pre-purchased tickets. There is also free entry for juniors aged 12 and under on a pre-purchased adult tickets, with four children entitled to entry on every adult ticket purchased.
During the Big Bash League I often talk about it being affordable family entertainment – their pricing is very similar to that introduced by these four clubs this year. It costs less to take a family to the footy than it does to go to the movies.
I’ve seen commentary on social media about the cost of going to the footy and buying tickets at the gate last minute. I don’t think it’s fair to make that criticism, particularly when these affordable family offers are all available online.
Crowds are often in the headlines too because fans and media commentators like to comment on the difference between NRL and AFL crowds. It’s easy to draw a distinction between the two, particularly when AFL games often get upwards of 50,000 people, compared to the 20,000 at an NRL game.
But I don’t think it’s a fair or useful comparison. I admit I find it harder to watch NRL games at the ground.
This is different to AFL, which is not so much about the detail and in my view, is better to watch at the ground because you get a better understanding of the enormity of the ground and the off the ball movement. When I watch AFL on television I am lost, whereas our television product for footy is in many cases, a better viewing experience than being at the game.
Still, I love watching my team live. I’m a proud Parramatta season ticket holder and try to get to as many away games as I can as well. I also try to schedule in a trip to Newcastle and to Canberra once a year.
But the reason I go to games isn’t so much about the footy, but more about the opportunity to cheer on my team in person and to soak up the atmosphere at games. I’ve sat in the same place for most Eels games for the best part of four years and my footy family is my winter family. I would not have met many of these people without footy and it’s our love for the Eels that has brought (and kept) us together.
If affordability is something that has stopped you going to the footy in the past, be sure to keep in touch with your club because there are all working hard to make sure that the footy is accessible to everyone. And if going to the footy is still a push for you and your family, then there’s no better family afternoon than going to watch the Newtown Jets at Henson Park – adult tickets are $10 and children can always go for free.