NRL boss Dave Smith claims rugby league will become the most played sport in Australia within the next five years.
NRL chief Dave Smith predicts rugby league will become the most played sport in Australia with $200m being ploughed into the development of the game over the next four years.
Smith headlined a presentation at Darling Harbour in Sydney on Monday along with ARLC chairman John Grant, chief operating officer Jim Doyle and head of football Todd Greenberg.
The former Lloyds Bank international boss outlined his plans for the NRL, which included the establishment of an $80m sustainability fund to safeguard the code’s future and detailed the strides made since the new billion dollar broadcast deal was signed off in August 2012.
The NRL made a record profit of $49.6m in 2013 – a $60m turnaround from 2012.
However, with soccer participation across the country on the rise, Smith said it was vital to increase investment at grass roots level.
“We have growth in our participation numbers,” Smith said.
“Women’s is up 20 per cent and masters up 14 per cent. Mini footballers is steady at 5.6 per cent.
“Wind the clock forward five years and we will be the biggest sporting community in the country.
“By that point we will hopefully gone through the current rights deal and see a big uptake in the number of people playing the game and the number of people watching the game and that will add more value to our rights.”
Smith said the NRL’s recent alliance with Touch Football Australia will bring more than 500,000 recreational participants under the umbrella of rugby league with 810,000 children already involved in existing development programs.
“We have significantly increased our investment in the game following the new broadcast rights deal, with 100 per cent of all revenue generated by the media rights deal invested in the game,” Smith said.
“Our results show that rugby league is investing more in the game than ever before and is now truly positioned to enter a period of growth that will make it the strongest and healthiest it has ever been.”
Despite recording healthy television figures, numbers were down by two per cent from 2012 and attendances by three per cent.
Greenberg said disappointing seasons from Parramatta, St George Illawarra, Brisbane and Wests Tigers were a big factor for the slide and one of the reasons the NRL lost $1.8m on the finals series.
He also said discussions had taking place with broadcasters about improving scheduling, in addition to improving matchday experiences for fans.
“It was a complex problem, our four biggest rating teams were at the bottom of the ladder,” Greenberg said.
“That affects crowds and it affects ratings, that is real and transparent.
“What we have done this year is work hard with the broadcasters to find better slots for television.
“We are bringing Saturday afternoon football into play for the first time in a long time, we will have three games on Anzac Day and think that’s going to make a huge difference.”
Greenberg also indicated that plans are underway to make sure the biggest games in Sydney are held at ANZ Stadium and Allianz Stadium – moving them away from the suburban grounds.