The Courier-Mail

Fans, not cash, should be at the heart of the Ori­gin se­ries

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ONE of the great strengths of Aus­tralian sport – and a rea­son it at­tracts such loyal and pas­sion­ate fan bases – is the pure love of the game.

It is an arena where any­one with tal­ent can po­ten­tially ex­cel; where club and tribal loy­al­ties mean sup­port for a team is of­ten passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. In dom­i­nant codes such as rugby league, our egal­i­tar­ian ap­proach to man­age­ment of the sport sees a broadly level play­ing field man­aged through salary caps that en­sure a hand­ful of rich clubs can’t sim­ply buy their way to a premier­ship.

This beat­ing heart of rugby league is what the NRL needs to pay spe­cial heed to if it is con­sid­er­ing chang­ing the for­mat­ting of the code in the wake of the new broad­cast rights deal. That is, the fans must come first.

Nowhere is this po­ten­tial schism more ev­i­dent in the game’s block­buster round of State of Ori­gin football. As it stands, one demon­stra­tion match may be played out­side of Bris­bane and Syd­ney once ev­ery three years. The po­ten­tial that a game ev­ery sea­son may be ef­fec­tively auc­tioned off to the high­est bid­der, such as Auck­land or Mel­bourne, only serves to de­base the con­test, and treats fans with con­tempt.

Mel­bourne might have a big­ger sta­dium and at­tract – for one night – a few more dol­lars, but it is an AFL heart­land that has no deep-rooted history of Ori­gin and where any in­ter­est in league is fickle at best.

Such a pro­posal is symp­to­matic of the con­tempt with which sports fans have been treated for years when it comes to free-to-air broad­cast­ers plac­ing the in­ter­ests of rat­ings and advertisin­g rev­enue first, sec­ond and third ahead of the game, the play­ers and their sup­port­ers.

Fans want to see their team play live, and in the case of Ori­gin prefer­ably in a city where the con­cept was born not bought, and on what­ever va­ri­ety of media plat­form is most con­ve­nient to them.

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