A leading Chairman of an Australian Rules club has heaped praise on Australian Rugby League Chairman Peter V’landys, claiming that the advantage in the historic rivalry between Aussie Rules and Rugby League in Australia has tipped in favour of the NRL under V’landys’ leadership.
Sydney Swans Chairman Andrew Pridham has watched the revival of the NRL in New South Wales and he has issued a warning to his fellow clubs that the AFL could “become rugby union” if it fails to keep investing in NSW and Queensland, despite the fact that the AFL has traditionally drawn much larger crowds than the NRL.
Under V’landys the NRL returned to action three weeks earlier than the AFL, which is now facing complications from the spike in Covid-19 cases in its heartland of Victoria.
“The demise in a relative sense of rugby union in both financial and player sense – the number of people playing at schools, going to watch games, the engagement with the community – has dropped substantially since I’ve lived in Sydney (since 1989) … a lot of that has naturally gravitated to NRL,” Pridham told The Age newspaper.
“We’ve got a much stronger competitor now. The NRL, which is the dominant code, is getting stronger. They got the jump on the AFL in terms of getting games back on television. It’s a popular sport for people to watch on TV.
“[It’s] not necessarily [about people] going to the [NRL] games, and I think the lens in the southern states tends to be that the way to measure the interest in sport is the number of people that go to the games. It’s one measure, but it’s not the only measure.”
Pridham is urging the AFL not to abandon its investment in NSW and Queensland, despite the financial hit it has taken during the pandemic.
“I think it’s a very high priority, because if we don’t continue the grassroots development eventually you could become rugby union,” he added.
“The amount of media content they command in Sydney, it’d be ten times what the AFL gets. If left unchecked, it’s a big risk. Peter V’landys has really grabbed the imagination of NSW. They’re probably going to put another NRL team in Queensland, Brisbane, so they’ll have more content there.
“And this is in a landscape where the four AFL clubs in the northern states aren’t particularly financially strong. I think in the AFL, we’re all guilty of equating on-field success to off-field success, and it’s not the way to look at it.
“What the AFL needs to make sure, and we all need to make sure we do is redouble our efforts in terms of grassroots development, the academies, developing facilities, getting into the media, the promotion of the game, junior development. We’ve got to keep investing, and that’s clearly in a landscape where everybody is trying to reduce expenditure.”