Note: Sorry for my absence. I was volunteering at the Be Active 2012 conference in Sydney which was SICK. I had a great time. Stay tuned for things I learned!
Let me tell you something about me:
I LOVE PLANNING.
And that is the understatement of the century. Seriously. If I did nothing but organize and plan for the rest of my life… I would be the happiest person alive. I actually get butterflies in my stomach when I buy a new calendar. Filling out my planner/diary with birthdays, events and to-do lists is so incredibly satisfying… I cannot put it into words. And I also recently completed my 2 year plan, which took, well, longer than it probably should have.
So you can imagine my reaction when the NRL’s 5 year plan was launched this week. You don’t even need to imagine it – I can tell you that I actually squealed. Like a 4 year old. I have gone over the slide show at least 16 times, and I have a feeling I’ll be reading it at LEAST 6,000 more times. I think I have a problem. I would like to start by saying I think they’ve hit the right areas in this plan: money, fans, growth, players, engagement… everything is accounted for. My main issue? They’ve not ONCE mentioned women. What gives?
So here’s what they want to do, how they’re planning on doing it and what I think will help.
Encourage club growth. This is my favourite goal – I seriously love it because of how ridiculous and unlikely it is. The NRL wants to attract the highest quality athletes and they don’t mean good players, they mean good people. OH. GOODNESS. It’s as if they’re not aware of the reputations of their most prominent athletes. And they actively recruit these guys – people who have been charged with crimes. Sure, this has to do with the rebranding, but I wish them luck. My only suggestion is to do better interviews/background checks. Not just, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” but also… “Can you hold a job? How many times has your landlord kicked you out? What grades did you have in school?” I know that these guys don’t need to be good people to be good athletes (case in point: Craig Field) but especially if you want to rebrand, you don’t want to be associated with people who are going to constantly be in trouble. Decide which is more important: having the best players, or having the best blokes (ha ha, I still can’t say that word without giggling).
Refine pathways. This is a pretty cool one and I’m curious to see how it plays out. They basically want to make sure that after a player leaves the game, he’s got some where to go. They’re working on skills development and looking for other opportunities. It makes good sense because otherwise you’ll hear sad stories about what used to be. But here’s the problem, I think, with this goal: they teach them all the same skills. I recently heard (from a pretty reliable source) that most of these players get their certs in athletics, of some sort, – training, nutrition, etc. So what happens when they leave the league is they’re ll battling for the same jobs. Doesn’t sound too good, right? They need to spread out the talent – trades, degrees, you know what I mean. Some of these guys are really smart! They can do more than just one class a week. I’m sure some of them would be a great mechanic or really enjoys history. Yes, it’s work, but encouraging players to do more than just the classic athletic certification sets them up for life.
Grow participation and fan base. This is ever league’s goal and the NRL basically has to compete with the AFL in this area. Someone once told me that the AFL and NRL don’t compete for fans… and I called bullshit (sorry, sorry, this is a clean site, I know). While they may not compete for older fans, who are set in their ways, they certainly have to get the little kids to play their game. This really means directing efforts at the community and grassroots level. They may not see results for a few years (maybe 10?) but when the kids grow up, the viewership may shift from AFL to NRL. Provide incentives to join like fees that are less than other sports (I can’t believe how expensive it is to join a sport in this country!). What about if the kids get a party at the end of the year with all the other participants their age/in their area? If the NRL coordinates it, it takes pressure off the parents and is a great way to grow participation. They should also really focus on the game day experience, which you know I have a problem with. They need to o everything the AFL isn’t doing – they need to be entertaining.
Increase engagement. This one mainly focuses on media as a way of getting fans involved. That’s all well and good… but it should already be being done. Better late than never, I guess? I’m a big fan of getting the players out there. Fans need to care about their players and that can’t happen when they’re treated like untouchables. Get them to do volunteer projects in the community and let people get to know them. They’re not all good guys but I’d rather know the truth than just what I hear on the news. Let them tweet! Although, you may want to give them a prep course before the season starts. Let them interact with fans online. What about live, interactive online interviews with coaches and players where fans can submit questions on the spot? I’d go to that.
Be involved with the community. They’re kinda underachievers. Their goal is to increase participation by 3% each year. Eh. I don’t even have any suggestions because they don’t need them. I have a feeling it increases that much per year anyway.
Work on brand. Their new logo is a good start because people will be talking about it now, and when the season starts. The plan mentions they want to be consistent across all games and make public relations and communications clear. This seems like an obvious goal. I don’t know why it was even mentioned in the plan. The biggest thing they need to work on is their goal of being seen as a safe place by parents. I don’t know about that… This is really tied into their grassroots and community efforts, so that’s a start. But this is a league where fighting and ear biting and putting fingers into other people’s orifices is typical. I don’t think that image is going to change in five years. I’m not even sure it can change in 50.
Earn more money. They ultimately want $300 mil in revenues and $200 mil in growth fund investments. The important thing to pick up on here is that they want to double the amount they earn from non-broadcast revenue. That’s pretty intense. Since broadcasting revenues are currently, at least, $200,000 per year, they need to earn $100,000 in revenue from merchandise, ticket sales and stadium revenues (such as concession). That’s a big ask. Of course this is tied to other efforts such as increased membership and attendance, but if they want to do it in more creative ways (and if they want it to happen even if they don’t meet their increased growth goals), I think they need to increase their options. Make more, different merchandise (partner with Cotton On, remember?), give special options for seating (I love that the Blue Sox offer catering, but they could also offer special things like merch, player meet and greets, early entry or tours for just a bit extra). The point is, they need to do things that aren’t hard work, but give big returns.
Whew. That was a big one. I’ll take a break now so you can tell me what you think. Are their goals reasonable? Any tips on how they can meet them?