http://www.theroar.com.au/2014/03/29/the-game-day-experience-is-holding-nrl-attendances-back/ It’s been well documented recently that the NRL has been suffering from attendance problems during the opening weeks of the season. More bluntly, some good football has been played to mostly empty stadiums. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but on the whole the attendance lists do not make for happy reading – particularly if you’re reading them from NRL headquarters. I went out to Brookvale Oval last Sunday to watch Parramatta against Manly. I arrived towards the end of the NSW Cup fixture, and spent a sizeable chunk of time between the end of that game and the start of the NRL match twiddling my thumbs. It gave me time to think about the game-day situation at rugby league, and that what you see sitting in a grandstand is basically the same as what you can get sitting at home on television. Therein lies the problem. The way to get crowds out is to provide something at the ground that you don’t get at home watching on television. As it happens now, the two teams run onto the field, either with or without being serenaded by cheerleaders, and the game is kicked off. It isn’t that much different to park footy, but it should be much bigger and better – flashier, slicker, more professional. I spend a fair amount of time in America, and have just returned from a month there. The thing that the North Americans do extraordinarily well is make you feel like you’re at the biggest game on the continent at that time. Outside of Kiss Cam and Dance Cam and whatever else-cam, there is a sense of anticipation slowly ramped up, the sense that there’s going to be a titanic struggle about to be played out in front of us. I remember being at a Columbus v Los Angeles hockey game at the Staples Center in late 2008, at which point neither team was even close to being labelled a powerhouse. It was a match-up of mediocre teams whose seasons, even in the early months, didn’t look like reaching great heights. Based on the way the players were welcomed onto the ice, you’d have sworn that this was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals between two star-studded teams. There were light shows, smoke machines, clever graphics on the scoreboard showing players skating through a snowy Los Angeles, and the blaring goal horn. All combined, it was an exciting assault on the senses. It got me excited, or ‘jacked up’ as the Americans like to say, and ready for some hockey. Cheap bells and whistles, maybe, but it had the desired effect – the crowd were at fever pitch. The singing of the national anthem was spine-tingling, too. By the time they dropped the puck, the atmosphere in the building was great. It was the sort of pre-game atmosphere and excitement that you can’t get from watching on television, and such a spectacle is why the NHL routinely sells out arenas. To bring the crowds in, there needs to be an obvious difference between what you see and experience at the event and what you get on television. In America, that has been achieved – in Australia, it has not. You turn on your television, see the team run out and get the game underway. That’s essentially what happened when I was at Brookvale, aside from the presence of a group of dancers to highlight the talents of those with physical disability or impairment – a nice touch. No wonder the fans are staying away. It’s cheaper to sit at home, and there isn’t really a reason to go to a game. There just isn’t any real reason to go when you can stay home, thus avoiding things like expensive food, long queues and the occasional group of loud-mouthed fans to sour the day. The exception is the big games like finals and State of Origin, which are preceded by entertainment. Some of what is done in America obviously isn’t possible here, but the idea is there. Along with perhaps lowering the ticket prices, throwing on something exciting before the game would bring the crowds back through the turnstiles, which in turn makes those wide-panning camera shots look more impressive on television. I know you’re going to say that the on-field product is arguably as good as its ever been, and that we don’t need cheap entertainment beforehand. But having some form of a pre-game spectacle definitely raises the collective blood pressure of the crowd, and that makes the game-time atmosphere even better. Last weekend, I also attended the opening game of the 2014 Major League Baseball season between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks at the SCG. From the moment we walked into the ground, there was a terrific buzz in the air. The atmosphere was tremendous. The introductions of the players, who come out of the dugout to applause, is a baseball tradition, and gives the crowd a chance to put a face to the name of all the guys who would be out on the field. Having Adam Goodes out to throw a ceremonial first pitch was great as well, and something which should be considered for sports here. Closer to home, the AFL’s biggest regular season games are ANZAC Day clash between Collingwood and Essendon and the Dreamtime at the ‘G contest between Richmond and Essendon. Granted, both are rivalry games, but the way the league packages the game with entertainment and spectacle around it. No wonder these games draw upwards of 85,000, numbers that even NRL preliminary finals don’t get close to. The AFL has sent various officials across to America to study how the NFL does things. They are learning about turning a game into a big show. The NFL has its own problems with attendance in markets where teams are under-performing, but their low numbers aren’t anywhere near as low as what the NRL draws. I could write a whole different article about ticket prices – which are pretty high, especially when you take into account the additional costs involved in taking a family to the footy. But I can’t help but wonder if people wouldn’t be more interested in shelling out cash if they knew they were going to see something different to what they can get far cheaper on television.