$2m NRL boost for grassroots

RUGBY LEAGUE

NRL chief Dave Smith predicts rugby league will become the most played sport in Australia with $200 million to be ploughed into the development of the game over the next four years.

Smith headlined a presentation in Sydney yesterday along with ARLC chairman John Grant, chief operating officer Jim Doyle and head of football Todd Greenberg.

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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 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 nationwide on the rise, Smith said it was vital to increase investment at the grassroots level.

"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 have 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 development programs.

"We 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.

Despite healthy television figures, numbers were down by 2 per cent from 2012 and attendances by 3 per cent.

Greenberg said that disappointing seasons from Parramatta, St George Illawarra, Brisbane and Wests Tigers were a big factor for the slide and one reason why the NRL lost $1.8m on the finals.

He also said discussions had taking place with broadcasters about improving scheduling, in addition to improving match-day 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 under way to make sure the biggest games in Sydney are held at ANZ Stadium and Allianz Stadium, away from suburban grounds.

AAP

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