Abdo sees benefits of expansion
NRL chief Andrew Abdo has hit back at claims time has run out to launch a second Brisbane team in 2023 and declared Queensland needs the Broncos to become a powerhouse again.
Abdo was in Brisbane on Tuesday, along with a host of ex-NRL players, to promote next month’s Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium.
All 16 clubs will converge on the River City from May 14-16 for the eight-game bonanza, which the NRL hopes to make an annual event in Queensland.
That could see the 2023 Magic Round debut a 17th club if the NRL’s expansion plans come to fruition.
The NRL is conducting a feasibility study into the introduction of a second Brisbane franchise to rival the Broncos, with the hope the team will be ready to launch in the 2023 season.
With a July deadline, the NRL has three months to decide whether expansion is the right move and which of the three bid teams deserves the game’s 17th licence.
The Brisbane Jets, Firehawks and Dolphins are advanced in their bids to become Queensland’s fourth NRL club and are eagerly awaiting a decision.
But time is running out to meet a 2023 launch date to coincide with the NRL’s new free-to-air broadcast deal.
Abdo said the NRL was on track to meet its July deadline but wouldn’t be rushed into expanding if more time was needed to ensure the new club was a success.
“We’ve always been working towards a June-July decision point for 2023 and I’m confident in what we’ve seen to date on the readiness of all three interested parties,” he said.
“Equally, this is not something that has to be rushed. If the business case says that we need a bit more time then we need a bit more time.
“Either way, we will be communicating this via the commission through the middle of the year.
“We started the process a number of years ago. We’re thinking about the growth of rugby league and where the competition can go, the number of teams and where you’ll have the teams. This is not something that is an overnight consideration.
“We’re in the process of looking at the feasibility, the business case, the revenues that are incremental to the costs, how it impacts the existing clubs. Most importantly, the reason we’re doing this is because Queensland is really important for rugby league.
“Number two, it’s important to think about growth in a sustainable way. We need to think about talent, pathways and participation. If we don’t invest in participation in our core markets, the game will lose relevance over time.”
The NRL has met some resistance over expansion in recent months. The current clubs have banded together to commission an independent study into the merits of a new franchise while the lopsided 2021 NRL competition has raised questions.
Abdo denied a 17th team would cause a player drain and further divide the contenders from pretenders.
“I wouldn’t say there is any evidence to support a direct correlation between the talent and the equality or evenness of the competition,” he said.
“The evenness of the competition has a number of complex factors that feed into it.
“I don’t think adding another team will have a direct impact.”
A second Brisbane team would create a genuine intratown rivalry and breathe life into the game in Queensland, with Abdo admitting the NRL needed a strong Broncos.
“The Broncos are an important team, they have a huge fan base,” he said.
“When they go well, the entire community that they represent lifts up and we see a huge halo effect from that.”