Red V targets membership of 40,000

RUGBY LEAGUE

St George Illawarra's fragmented scheduling won't affect membership numbers, with Dragons brass boldly hoping to swell membership numbers beyond 40,000 in five years' time.

One of the best supported clubs in the NRL, the Dragons' membership pulling power will be put to a real test considering some of the angst caused by their home game shift.

The Dragons will use five different venues as "home" grounds in 2014, slashing the number of matches played at their traditional bases of Kogarah and Wollongong to four each.

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As they clocked up 5000 members just before the new year, chief operating officer Michael McDonald revealed plans to double their membership in the next five years.

"If you look where we're at [last year] at around 20,000, that's looking at almost 40,000 Red V members in the next five years," he said. "Looking at the size of our fan base we think that's achievable.

"That's going to come out of ticketed membership and non-ticketed membership from the support base we've got across the country. Certainly the Illawarra is a key element of that.

"Moving to play games at larger venues is also part of that, otherwise we're hamstrung or marginalised by venue capacities. It's also provided us an opportunity to put new products into new markets."

The NRL still lags significantly behind their AFL counterparts in the membership stakes, with Collingwood boasting 80,000 members last season. Souths were rugby league's pacesetters in 2013 after a surge in support, but still couldn't crash through the 30,000 barrier.

But McDonald argued the gap will continue to narrow in the membership stakes between Australian sport's two biggest football codes.

"The AFL have been doing it a lot longer and they have an ingrained membership culture," he said. "It's more recent into rugby league.

"It's been growing somewhere between 20 and 25 per cent per year over the last five years so the NRL and the clubs have a lot of opportunity in front of them. Dave Smith has made a lot of noise about the future of club membership as a pillar of sustainability and we see the same thing."

Red V members have been grappling with 14 different membership packages to choose from next season as the joint venture try to appease their entire fan base.

The Dragons were the last NRL club to go on sale with their membership, but McDonald indicated the early results - including response from the Illawarra - had been positive.

"If I look at the same timeframe in 2013 we're well ahead of that," he said of current renewal rates. "That's good news for us. Digging a little bit deeper, about 15 per cent of those are new members which is over indexing where we were this time last year in new member acquisition."

"I think our membership and fan engagement strategies are strong for the future. In the latest Morgan research we were still identified as the most supported club in NSW."

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