It has become apparent that whether or not the Australian Rugby League Commission opts to expand the number of teams in the NRL by 2015 will ultimately be determined by the impending broadcast deal.
It has been rumoured in the press that Channel 9 and Foxtel are eager to increase their viewing numbers in Queensland and, along with the Perth-based West Coast Pirates, a Queensland franchise is considered likely. There are three Queensland bids vying for contention and we have spoken previously to Central Queensland officials who believe the lack of sporting competition and the fanatical support for the code in their region makes them the right choice. A Western Corridor bid out of Ipswich declined to make time for interview; regardless they are considered a distance third in the pecking order.
Craig Davison, the founder of the Outdoor Furniture Specialists chain and a shareholder in the Brisbane Broncos, is the chief director of the Brisbane Bombers bid. He did make time to answer our questions.
Why should the Bombers be picked?
Davison says that the key strength of a second Brisbane team that its introduction would lead to a greater injection of sponsorship money into rugby league by providing potential sponsors in Brisbane opportunities that currently do not exist due to the exclusive nature of the Broncos’ sponsorship deals.
“The interesting fact here is that a lot of our sponsors have come to us and said ‘Look I want to put money into the Broncos but I’m locked out.’ Without a second team that money will go to union, soccer, AFL or other avenues. You bring that second team into Brisbane it opens up a whole series of commercial opportunities for rugby league.”
Similarly he believes that establishing a second NRL team in Brisbane will enable the ARLC to maximize the amount of money it can generate from the impending broadcast rights deal as it will expose broadcasters to the greatest number of viewers in an area that the bidding parties are reportedly eager to increase their audience numbers.
“The reports I’m getting from the TV people is that the ARLC has got to have two Brisbane teams playing so that there are two games every weekend with a Brisbane team, beamed into Brisbane,” Davison says. “It’s all about the numbers. It can’t be an external team it has to be Brisbane vs. Brisbane. At the moment, Brisbane only has 12 games a year and Sydney108 per year. That needs to be addressed.
“It is all about TV, these guys are the ones signing the billion dollar cheque; you’d like to think they’d have a little bit of a say in what goes on.”
Can Brisbane support another rugby league team and how do you plan to generate a new supporter base?
Critics of the Bombers bid have questioned the logic of placing a second team in Brisbane pointing out that the ARL introduced the South Queensland Crushers back in the 1990s and they were a financial flop that received very little fan support in a highly “pro-Broncos” town.
However, Davison claims this perception is invalid. He says Brisbane’s population growth in conjunction with dramatic changes to the rugby league landscape during the past 15 years means that it is unreasonable to use the Crushers’ demise during the mid-90s as an indicator of the future viability of a second Brisbane team.
“You cannot compare the two eras,” he says “We had one million people [living in Brisbane] back then, now we have 2.1 million,” says Davison.
“The game has matured so much, the TV rights are worth so much more meaning that the viability of another team in Brisbane is a no brainer.”
As for fostering a supporter base Davison says the Bombers have that covered also. He points out that according to rough surveys conducted recently, the Broncos have a 30 percent support base among rugby league fans in Brisbane.
“‘This means that 70 pecent of fans are attached to ‘non-Broncos’ teams,” Davison says. “So you have this group of people that simply aren’t aligned to any Brisbane based teams, only to Sydney teams. Some of these people have been in town for so long they want to grab onto something new and I think it’s fresh to have a brand new team and no associations with anyone else… I think we’ll have no problem at all in getting a supporter base”.
What is your ownership structure?
Like South Sydney, the Titans, the Storm and the Warriors the Brisbane Bombers will be a privately owned club, rather than a community owned club or a public company.
“We looked strongly into all three ownership models,” Davison says. “Out of the three we found that the best model was the private ownership model which focuses on the community and the juniors and a whole range of aspects which you’d sometimes struggle to support if you had a true community structure and all of a sudden found that you just weren’t getting enough funds coming in.
“The reality is no matter how much you talk about a community-owned business you’ve got to make money from day one and have a sustainable income to support your whole junior base program and your community program. Now, no disrespect to anyone running a community club but you’ve got to have some pretty strong ties behind you if you’re going to make it work.”
Where is the bid at with regards to recruitment?
Out of all the prospective bids the media has portrayed the Bombers to be the most active in regards to recruitment.
So far they’ve been linked to many high profile players and coaches such as Quade Cooper, David Shillington, Cooper Cronk and Mal Meninga among others.
Davison says these links are mainly media speculation but does concede that the Bombers have been in talks with a number of players and coaches.
“We’ve had so many approaches from player managers and coach managers, we’ve basically taken it all on board and said to them until we get a clear direction from the NRL as to expansion happening we can’t do much about it.
“Behind the scenes I’ve heard from a number of player managers that some players are lining their contracts up so that they finish in 2014 or if they’ve got longer term contracts negotiated get out clauses in 2014.”
Do the Bombers have a junior development program in place?
At this stage the Bombers are currently looking to develop a partnership with junior clubs in the Sunshine Coast Region.
“Sunshine Coast is a wonderful catchment,” Davison says. “We’re looking to have a partnership with the Sunshine Coast Falcons who have about 3000 to 4000 juniors.”
Should they get the licence the Bombers plan to talk to additional junior catchments in and around Brisbane, however, Davison says the Bombers are unlikely to form any additional allegiances until they’re guaranteed entry into the competition.
What corporate support do you have?
The Bombers already have a fair degree of corporate support with companies like Jeep, Austereo (b105), Bundaberg Distilling and Canterbury of New Zealand jumping on board. However, like many of the competing bids, Davison says while they have had discussions with a number of high profile companies, many of these companies are not willing to officially support the Bombers until the ARLC confirms expansion and guarantees the Bombers entry into the competition.
“A couple of large companies have said they are not interested in getting on board with us until we get nominated… but as soon as this happens they’ll be on board,” Davison says.
Anyone looking to learn more about the Brisbane Bombers can head to their website at: www.brisbanebombers.com.au
Image: Brisbane Bombers