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