It’s an interesting time for a number of professional team sports in Australia at the moment. I thought I’d run my eye over their current performances and challenges with a Weekender report card…
Rugby League – NRL (B+)
The TV ratings for the NRL this year, particularly on Fox League, have been out of this world. That’s where the money is, and the NRL is breaking records and topping the ratings constantly.
Apart from the recent Scott Bolton mishap and the discussion over Matt Lodge, the game has avoided any major off-field scandals of late, which is also helping the performance of the code.
But the NRL faces many challenges. Head office is being run too politically and without spirit and soul, while the obsession with a ‘big stadium plan’ has the potential to kill off what makes rugby league so special: its tribalism.
Aussie Rules – AFL (B-)
The AFL is travelling pretty well at the moment and like the NRL has managed to come through the other side of the major drug scandal that engulfed the code for a while there.
Crowd numbers are still epic and the match day experience is superb.
But there’s some key performance indicators the AFL is struggling with, including breaking into the western Sydney market.
The on-field success of the GWS Giants is somewhat overshadowing the reality, which is that despite the tens of millions of dollars poured into western Sydney, nobody cares all that much about GWS.
Soccer – A-League (C)
Football will get a major boost in popularity with the upcoming World Cup but the A-League has some serious issues.
I believe the competition goes for way too long. It currently starts in October and goes all the way until mid-May. The latter and most exciting part of the season gets swamped by the NRL and AFL seasons.
A more boutique competition run over the summer months, say over 16 weeks, would serve the A-League much better.
The code is also struggling for TV viewers at the moment, a strong indicator that all is not well. Head office also appears to be extremely disengaged with the fan base – a sign of big problems.
Cricket will get back on its feet particularly in 2019 with the next Ashes series and the one day World Cup. But right now, the sport is in a world of pain.
The ball tampering scandal has left an awful taste in people’s mouths while popular players Steve Smith and David Warner will be nowhere near a cricket bat over the next 12 months.
The new TV deal will also cause some headaches. Seven will prioritise the tennis over the cricket this coming summer, while there will be more games on pay TV and less on free-to-air.
It’ll take some gloss off the summer, particularly as people get used to a new TV format that steps away from what we’ve known and loved through generations.
The ball tampering scandal also brought into serious question the current leadership at Cricket Australia.
No sport is perfect but you can’t question the tremendous growth of netball over the last few years, particularly with the emergence of the Super Netball competition.
The sport has good free-to-air coverage, impressive crowds and great junior numbers. It is in a major growth phase right now.
Things are looking good but the recent Commonwealth Games failure and no Pay TV deal stops netball getting an A+.
Basketball – NBL (C+)
A big chance of being the best improver in the class.
The signing of Andrew Bogut and the success of Australian players overseas will surely help the NBL gain more traction and support amongst the sporting public.
The glory days of the 1990s are unlikely to ever return, but there’s signs that the NBL can really settle into a positive niche. A new TV deal is coming too.
Rugby Union (D-)
Rugby is at risk of disappearing from the Australian landscape quicker than the next winner of ‘The Voice’.
The Super Rugby competition is struggling in the popularity stakes, the Australian team has lost its aura and the recent axing of the Penrith Emus shows that head office is disconnecting from western Sydney.
I can’t see rugby turning things around any time soon and I think the downward spiral is going to continue unless there is a major shake-up in the leadership at Australian rugby.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor.