Expansion is seemingly always on the lips around League Central. Since the 1981 admission of the Canberra Raiders, the NRL has continuously looked to build out its competition.
Following the Green Machine, the Brisbane Broncos and Newcastle Knights joined in 1988, followed by the New Zealand Warriors and North Queensland Cowboys in 1995.
The Melbourne Storm joined the competition in 1999.
After a nine year break from expansion, the Gold Coast Titans entered the NRL in 2007.
Of course during the mid 90s you had the ill-fated expansion teams of the Super League era including the Adelaide Rams, Western Reds, Hunter Mariners and South Queensland Crushers.
The Gold Coast Giants/Seagulls endured a tumultuous time from its inception in 1988 until its shuttering in 1998.
The NRL also formed the St George Illawarra Dragons and Wests Tigers mergers for the 1999 season. There was the complete disaster of the North Sydney Bears and Manly Sea Eagles merger – Northern Eagles – in 2000 that lasted all of two seasons before the Bears were banished to the NSW Cup and the Sea Eagles once again stood in their own right.
Now, 14 years after the NRL welcomed the Titans to the fold, Queensland appears set to welcome its fourth team to the competition.
Fighting for a lucrative NRL licence are three bids – the Brisbane Jets, Brisbane Firehawks and Redcliffe Dolphins.
The Jets bid is a combined pitch from the Ipswich Jets and Brisbane Bombers, while the Dolphins are based on their Qld Cup side but will not carry the “Redcliffe” moniker should they field an NRL side. The Firehawks are backed by the Easts Tigers.
The plan is for a team to be established in Queensland that will challenge the monopoly the Brisbane Broncos hold on the state’s capital city.
The Dolphins have been swimming around the possibility of taking up an NRL expansion licence for a number of years now and have a strong level of underlying support.
They’ve also been a long-term proving ground for future NRL players with the likes of Kotoni Staggs, Jake Turpin and Tom Opacic all calling Redcliffe home.
The club also once had Arthur Beetson on the books.
Redcliffe doesn’t just own a leagues club like many other NRL sides, it also boasts revenue generating property including an aquatic centre and shopping centre while playing out of Dolphins Stadium.
One of the leaders of Redcliffe’s bid is a man who knows almost everything there is to know about the NRL and the Brisbane Broncos.
Terry Reader spent over a decade with the Broncos as Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Strategy Officer, and is now with the Dolphins as they try to navigate the NRL environment.
Reader says the Dolphins are in a very strong financial position to support an NRL club.
“The club has a diversified revenue stream and income and is a profitable organisation. It also has the stadium (Dolphins Stadium). We hosted a sold out Broncos vs Cowboys game which is another revenue generator for the club, which has the Brisbane Roar now as an anchor tenant playing their A-League games after leaving Suncorp Stadium for Dolphin Stadium.”
Financially, the Dolphins are looking at challenging the Broncos on the commercial front.
“Pre-COVID the Broncos’ commercial revenue and my role was chief commercial officer at the Broncos for about 15 years and the Broncos had the biggest sponsorship book and ticketing, game day, merchandise, corporate sales. That was $34m in commercial revenue they were generating. The NRL average in 2018/19 was $13.5m and the second biggest team was just over $16m.”
The issue many local businesses and companies have had when it comes to investing in rugby league, is the lack of opportunity given Brisbane is a one team town. Reader says should the Dolphins enter, then those businesses wanting to sponsor an NRL team will finally have a way into the market.
“So we’re modelling to be very competitive and given our base in Brisbane in Queensland where we only have one team, if they have a major sponsor in every category that locks out major competition. In Brisbane, where many people live and breathe rugby league, it opens up another opportunity for competitors for some of the biggest companies and biggest industries that can’t get into rugby league because the Broncos already have major partners in those areas.
“That will be opened up by the Dolphins getting an NRL licence and we’re getting a business plan and modelling that’s completely separate from our other business units. Those other business units just give the NRL piece of mind and look at the structure and how everything runs on its own two feet.”
When it comes to a home ground, Dolphins Stadium is an 11,500 seater boutique ground in the heart of Redcliffe that was most recently upgraded in 2018.
Although the Dolphins will play games at that ground, Reader explains the club has a wider stadium strategy to ensure it services the surrounding areas while also working with NRL broadcasters.
“Our stadium strategy we’re working through at the moment, but we plan to play a majority of games at Suncorp Stadium, there will be some at Dolphin Stadium and we’re also in discussions with the Sunshine Coast to make sure that we own that northern corridor which is obviously one of the fastest growing areas and one of the biggest population areas council wise in Australia right now.
“I think if you look, the NRL and the broadcasters, are keen to have people playing out of Suncorp Stadium more regularly. It is the number one rectangle stadium in the world so getting the balance right and having the stadium structure is part of our submission,” Reader says.
“We want to make sure we have the right venue strategy to ensure the club’s viable, but also increase the supporter base and make sure people are enjoying and can be part of the new club.”
One of the challenges facing the Dolphins or any of the teams vying for an NRL contract, is trying to be competition-ready in a short space of time.
Reader says it will be a steep curve in going from Queensland Cup to NRL should the club be promoted.
“What you have to remember is, we’re going to start a club, if the dates we’re hearing are correct, the club is going to have to start in June, July, August, that’s about 14 months before pre-season for the 2023 season. You’ve got to launch a club, go from zero to 30 staff inside quite a short term as you look to build your brand, launch your membership programs, build your commercial book and also sign players and a coach.
“So you need money behind you to be able to do that because you won’t earn money from the game in 2022. There’s a lot to do and you need some revenue behind that because you won’t earn a dollar from the game until 1st November 2022.”