As we enter the month of September, we start to get into the business end of two major sporting competitions, with the NRL and AFL both entering their finals period. Usually a stressful time for the clubs and their fans seeking premiership glory, for the NRL there was additional stress that was felt throughout by fans: The location for their Grand Final.
Now, most people would be aware that every Grand Final, apart from last year, has been hosted in Sydney at Stadium Australia (Accor Stadium, for sponsorship reasons), which is still the center of the NRL from back when it was strictly a New South Wales-only league. So why, and what, has happened that could’ve made the grand final move? The answer: Money and Politics.
The NRL has been desperately trying to get New South Wales Government money for a stadium upgrade for the Penrith Panthers stadium; however, the state government isn’t interested. The previous stadium rebuild for Allianz Stadium cost $800M to knock down and rebuild a structure that was almost identical. As a power move, the NRL threatened to relocate the Grand Final to another state (most likely Queensland, like last year). But, on the 18th of August this year, the NRL announced a one-year extension with the New South Wales Government for the rights to the Grand Final.
So, end of the story, right? Well, one thing that was brought up about this announcement shocked me when I heard it. After this year’s Grand Final, starting in 2023, the NRL announced that it would be moving the Grand Final to a different stadium each year; a system that is also used in the US for the NFL’s Super Bowl. This weirded me out. It reminded me of my mother, who would rant about the modern play and operation of the NRL, always making the statement of them ‘turning the sport into the NFL’. And this is now an exact change in that regard.
However, there is a major difference when it comes to this idea in comparison to the NFL. Whilst the NFL has thirty-two teams with stadiums that seat over 50,000. The NRL only really have a handful of stadiums they can use, realistically (Accor Stadium in Sydney, Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Marvel Stadium/MCG in Melbourne, Adelaide Oval in Adelaide, and Optus Stadium in Perth). Also, besides Accor and Suncorp, the other stadiums have one thing in common: they’re located in AFL-strong territory. This would be placing a magnifying glass to the inferiority complex the NRL has for the attendance and popularity figures the AFL can pull.
This idea, to me, seems to be a financial decision by the league. If it was a random selection for the host stadium, or if it cycled, I can imagine a bidding war breaking out for rights. A lot more money would make its way to the organisation, but would that money actually go to something that helps grow the sport and aids its development? Or would this just be a showing of CEO’s filling their pockets and exploiting the league, teams, and fans for more money? I worry that this would be another leaf out of the NFL’s book.
Though this stadium saga will not come into flourishment until next year, it is certainly one that will snowball into a major turning point for the sport.