Opinion – More Cap test cases for NRL expansion

Last time, we went off-piste and moved from rigorous analysis to speculative analysis. Let’s go further off-piste and apply Cap in ways that it was never meant to be (that’s why we’ve switched from “Analysis” to “Opinion”, even I have my limits).

Brisbane

Because of the capacity constraints discussed a few weeks ago, it’s a bit hard to judge just how popular NRL expansion would be in Brisbane. Using some Cap metrics, we can estimate what an “optimal” number of clubs might look like.

If we only care about maintaining a 15,000 average attendance, then:

  • 6 teams would give a Cap of 2.2
  • 5 teams = 2.6
  • 4 teams = 3.3
  • 3 teams = 4.4
  • 2 teams = 6.5

On the other hand, if we use the relationship between teams per capita and Cap developed a few weeks ago:

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Analysis – Where to for NRL expansion according to Cap

When I first started getting elbow-deep into NRL numbers, one of my favourite things to think about was expansion. The NRL has had the same sixteen club format since 2007. The Gold Coast Titans were the first new team to be added to the competition since 1998 brought us the Melbourne Storm.

The idea of some fresh faces and new colour schemes, coupled with a positive sign that the game is growing and the inherent riskiness appeals to many of sport’s more ardent fans. Todd Greenberg, CEO of the NRL, recently fielded questions from Twitter users, a noticeable portion of which were about expansion (which he hosed down).

One of the main drivers for examining the concept of Cap (see 1, 2 and 3) has been this. If we consider attendance a proxy for popularity and financial stability (let’s admit that’s dubious but press on nonetheless), then Cap can tell us something about potential expansion opportunities.

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Analysis – Which small town loves their team more?

The answer is Geelong, closely followed by Townsville:

small town cap

Did you want some more explanation or the graph is enough? The graph is fine? Well, I’ll just sit here in case you change your mind. Here’s an appropriate moment from The Simpsons:

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Analysis – “Lions and Broncos and Bears! Oh my!” – Brisbane’s footy attendances

There’s nothing quite like a Wizard of Oz reference to title a post on a rugby league blog but here we are to discuss Australia’s third and best city, Brisbane.

I guess I, like most Australians outside the SCAM triangle, have a chip on my shoulder about the relative importance afforded to Sydney and Melbourne at the expense of the rest of us. I mean, there’s only 3.5 million people living in south-east Queensland but sure, tell me more about the battlers in Western Sydney who have to commute 400 hours a day to get their menial paycheck to service their grossly inflated mortgage.

Ahem.

I digress. The long history of the VFL is tightly bound to Melbourne and the nation’s premier rugby league competition to Sydney. In the late 1980s, guess who came crawling for expansion opportunities? Oh you want us to help you expand because now you want a national footprint? How interesting.

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Analysis – An historical comparison of rugby league and AFL attendances using Cap

Last time, I introduced the concept of Cap. Cap is the ratio of the number of people in the area of a game compared to the number of people who actually turn up over the season. In this case, the lower the Cap (i.e. the more people who attend compared to the size of the local population), the more popular the sport, accounting for the local population and number of games. Cap is mostly for comparative analysis in fairly like-for-like situations but can also be used for very loose estimating, as we will see.

Average attendances can be a bit deceiving: AFL teams play 11 home games, NRL 12, A-League 13 or 14 and Super Rugby only 7 or 8. If, for argument’s sake, the Roar and the Reds have average attendances of 12,000 in a given year, a lot more people actually turned out for Roar games because they played nearly twice as many. If ticket prices are the same, that would also mean Roar fans spent a lot more money. Cap accounts for this by using the total gate receipts for a given year.

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Analysis – The pissing contest that is comparing average attendances

The start of the AFL season ushered in a series of gushing articles about how wonderful the nearly 45,000 average attendance for the first round was and how the NRL’s struggle to get even 15,000 to their games was an indictment on the code and a sign that its demise was imminent. This is the perfect example.

It’s a giant pissing contest between the codes that makes for clickbaity but uninteresting and uninformative copy for the producers of sports content. These stories don’t tell you anything because there’s no analysis, just regurgitation. I think a closer look will yield something more interesting.

Using attendance as a proxy for popularity or financial stability is a bit problematic. In theory, a team that gets bums on seats is a team that will get eyeballs on TVs and put dollars in the bank.

This idea glosses well over a number of things that can affect attendance: weather, star power of individual players, on-field success of the home team, marketing, off-field mismanagement, stadium quality, access to the game, time of the game, proximity of the teams, rivalries and the alignment of the planets.

At a far enough distance, a lot of these variables will cancel themselves out. I’m looking for underlying patterns.

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