NRL clubs torching some big bucks

Roy Masters decided to outline in the Sydney Morning Herald the red ink being racked up for the owners or benefactors of the NRL clubs.

That cute graphic Roy inserted shows that losses for the 16 NRL clubs (before owner and Leagues Club contributions) went up from a total of $30 million 3 years ago to $60 million last year. That’s on $207 million of revenue, $160 million of which comes from NRL grants.

Those extra losses weren’t accumulated on getting more revenue, because club commercial and other income only grew by a paltry $2.0 million across 16 clubs. The extra $30 million in net losses came from $7m on player spending (net of the increased grant), with $23m of the extra losses was increased football department (non-player) spending.

If $60 million of losses sounds pretty hideous to you, its easily recouped. Teams like Parramatta can consistently piss money away every year with no accountability and no-one cares because you go into Parra Leagues Club, and its 95% old grannies and Chinese pokie fiends. A bunch of other clubs have similar pokie palaces, and a couple of clubs are funded by the NRL.  The rest have private owners, who cough up cash until they run out, and then that club gets funded by the NRL.

The clubs want more money from the NRL, which might be tough because they managed to lose money too. Total revenue to the NRL plus clubs in 2016 was $582m, with the NRL contributing $375m and the 16 clubs $207m. In 2016, clubs received $160.2m in grants. The NRL’s revenue was $1.6b in the past five years, 60 per cent of which has gone to the players and clubs in annual distributions. So that leaves a neat $900m + they’ve managed to spend on central programs in five years.  No, I’ve got no idea where either – polo shirts and flights for Scott Prince and Petero to travel the country and hold footballs can’t cost that much.

The NRL last year floated the idea of a cap on football department spending.  Canberra CEO Don Furner came up with this beauty:

“Obviously the devil’s in the details. I’ve got to see what’s included, what’s excluded. Is a trip to America for our strength-and-conditioning staff is that included? Is buying new equipment? You don’t want to stifle innovations.”

I would think junkets to the USA could be safely included in unnecessary spending. Shiny new gym equipment when the industry changes its mind what is good every 2 years is also unlikely to qualify as innovation. Don is a boob.

Useless serious-looking bald guy John Grant decided to act tough by saying the clubs could lose their licences if they didn’t reign in the spending, and then when threatened with his job, folded like the cheap suit he is and gave them more money so he could pork-barrel out another year looking confused during trophy presentations.

Football department spending on “innovation” will be mostly bullshit. It’s like personal trainers. Every year they have a new idea on the type of training that is absolutely necessary for you to do. This year its called “HIIT”.  A year ago it was Kettle Bells.  No, Jane Fonda videos will not be back.

Take those vitally important GPS things sewn into jerseys with 6 figure software that tell you how much the guy has been running around.  Whatever information that provides, everyone but the fat guys plays the whole game, and the fat guys are given rests at precisely the same time every game. They’re useless – but everyone’s decided they have to have them.

Hiring a professional MMA coach with as many tattoos as your players does have some inefficiencies when your players are no longer required to kick their opponents in the head.

Gus Gould’s $20 million boondoggle at Penrith with the personalised mobile phone chargers and huge swathes of empty space surrounding two spa baths will be the next trend. No-one remembered that it sent Michael Searle’s Titans broke and now the NRL have to pay for the tow truck. Hopefully pokie machine revenue stays strong in the Blue Mountains.

Its equally important to have a huge amount of budget set aside for multiple guys per club like Alfie Langer and Jim Dymock to stand around at training, then run on the field with water and a yellow bib, plus some guys to hold the other end of the walkie talkie.  If your head coach is getting high six figures, these guys need to be paid a third of that.

I personally feel that entire strength and conditioning programs could save a huge amount of money by focussing on one area with Aussie NRL players: keep them off piss and drugs. If they had some sort of monitor for those two things that the cops use or an hourly breathalyser/drug test, then you could just buy the cheapest gym membership for each player, let them do their own thing, and you’d have the fittest team in the comp for £25k a year. You’d save another five million on welfare officers, counselling and rehab. Tell me I’m on to something.

The biggest issue with reigning this stuff in is that anyone with a brain who insists on some level of accountability in any area in rugby league is immediately shoved out the door.

Maybe the money is being spent on this “culture” thing coaches are always talking about. You know the one. The previous coach’s culture was “shit”.  Quite possibly, if they haven’t won a grand final in a number of years, the previous 5-6 coaches’ culture was “shit”. You can get away with that, because a) it has no definition, is immeasurable and unaccountable, and b) once the last guy is out the door, you can say everything he did was shit, giving you more time in the job because you have to “fix it”.  Apparently, part of it is printing posters of old guys you’ve never heard of.

Ricky specialises in this, but he’s not alone. Unbelievably, Rick Stone attempted to sell us on the idea that Newcastle needed him to fix the culture after Wayne Bennett left. HE WASN’T NEWCASTLE ENOUGH. The new coach has the culture “right”. Until he’s gone, when we find out from the new coach that the old culture was “shit”.

Here’s how you get a good culture for a team.

  1. buy the best players.
  2. get any idiots out of the way who will stop them winning games (like Rick Stone, or alcoholic players who punch other guys at the bar).
  3. winning games, which will naturally follow, will give you “the right culture”.

The first bit is the bit you should be spending money on.

Rugby league players are not complex humans in their day jobs. They are told what to do for roughly 50 hours a week with the aim of them causing an inflatable synthetic to end up in their arms in a rectangle at the end of a larger rectangle in exchange for shiny new gear every year and the means to make bad real estate and other fiscal decisions, or gamble on their own games with shady types. Scoring more points than the other team results in lots of smiling faces, otherwise known as “good culture”. Not wearing thongs to press conferences is a ruse.

The NRL has had 7 different premiers in 7 years.  No one has repeated in that time. 12 of the clubs have been premiers in 16 years.  2 more clubs have made multiple grand finals.  So basically, if you just hang around a few more years, you could bring Bert Holcroft back from the dead to coach your team and you’ll win the comp.

Penrith will win one soon and say it was the Centre of Excellence, along with Gus Gould’s five-year plan instituted 9 years ago.  No doubt, Gus’s plan included something about culture.  Brisbane, Melbourne or Canterbury will win one and say you’ve got to pay the top coaches a million bucks to win the comp. You know, like the Cowboys did with Green before he won, or the Sharks did with Flanagan.

Don Furner’s quote was a neat little window on how easy it will be to get an agreement to restrict football club spending.  No-one who is in charge of spending the money has any appetite to restrict it lest they fall behind on the “innovation” and trips to the USA scale, and club boards are less powerful than the coach, and don’t understand the value of variables.  While benefactors are prepared to keep sticking money in, your won’t reign it in.

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Author: Max Smith

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