NRL: MANLY MUST EXPAND BY INHERITING BEARS TERRITORY

@Hayward_AdamK

The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles’ financial problems have been well documented in recent years, and if it wasn’t for the Penn family pouring in millions of dollars of their own money over the past decade, the Sea Eagle might have been no more, even before the financial hit brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The club has very little in assets and unlike some other Sydney clubs like the Bulldogs, Tigers, Eels, Sharks and Panthers, they are not heavily backed by a rich leagues club.

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Manly operate in a tiny market of around 300,000 people and is occupied by mainly small businesses – so there is not much on offer in regard to sponsorship and corporate partnerships. Simply put, Manly’s market conditions are not particularly viable so they must expand their brand beyond the Northern Beaches region.  

If Manly were to go under, it would cause a huge geographical problem for the NRL, as they would be unrepresented from the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Newcastle, which would leave the door wide open for the AFL and A-League to swoop on a very large chuck of rugby league heartland.

Since the North Sydney Bears were vanished from the NRL after the ill-fated merger with Manly (forming the Northern Eagles) in 2002, the Upper and Lower North Shore and Northern Suburbs regions has gone unrepresented at NRL level and tens of thousands of fans were lost.

Manly would be well served by broadening the appeal of the club outside of its traditional supporter base on the Northern Beaches. There is no chance of North Sydney ever re-entering the NRL at their old base, so it would be logical for Manly to be more proactive in inheriting Bears territory.

In 2018, New South Wales Origin coach Brad Fittler called for Manly to merge with the North Sydney Bears for a second time and create “a behemoth club”, which could work with the right administration, but the failures of the Northern Eagles would likely turn off a lot of fans and Manly can do it on their own with the right business model.

Club owner Scott Penn has previously discussed improving Manly’s relationship with the North Shore and eyeing off the Central Coast. However, the club’s membership numbers have stagnated in recent years, which suggests they have not made a significant imprint in these areas at all.

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They took 16 home games to the Central Coast from 2007 – 2015 and attracted decent crowds but since then, their lack of commitment to the region has seen the Sydney Roosters swoop in and strengthen their ties to the Central Coast.

Manly is the only professional sporting team based in the northern regions of Sydney. It is time for the club to piece together the rest of the blueprint for long-term sustained success.

Manly were approved state government funding for a $36 million state-of-the-art Centre of Excellence at Brookvale Oval to be completed by mid-2021, which will also include a 3000-seat undercover grandstand. It’s a massive boost for the club. Brookvale Oval has been unsuitable for NRL fixtures for the past several years, with outdated seating, accessibility, safety issues and poor player facilities.

But despite the upgrades and the new Centre of Excellence, it is important for Manly to look at taking at least one regular season home fixture to North Sydney Oval, make a connection with the community and junior footy clubs, form corporate partnerships with local businesses and leave a strong footprint in these North Sydney Bears regions.

The Bears, still compete in the NSW Cup, have unsuccessfully tried to be readmitted into the NRL, with a failed bid based on the Central Coast and attempting to buy the Gold Coast Titans. However, if they were to be successful in a different location in the future, they would look to retain the North Shore as part of their territory, so Manly need to get in and make the region their own while the Bears’ NRL bid is still dead.

The North Shore and Northern Suburbs are big business regions, meaning big sponsorship and corporate partnership potential.

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Actively participating in promotional, community and development work in these regions would help grow the club’s supporter base and potentially increase their crowd and membership numbers.

Converting bitter old diehard Bears fans might be nigh-on-impossible, and there would be a perception that the North Shore and Northern Suburbs will never accept Manly – but it has been 18 years since the fallout of the Northern Eagles split and the bitter rivalry between the Bears and Sea Eagles has been dead for 20 years. It is time to move on.

There is an entire generation of young fans from these regions who have no emotional connection to the Bears and are without local NRL representation, and Manly is the only club which can prevent the death of top-flight rugby league north of the Harbour Bridge.

Another move that would likely upset Manly fans, would be a necessary name change.

In order to encompass, incorporate and to tap into their adjacent market of the Upper and Lower North Shore, the Northern Suburbs and ensure the inclusivity of all fans in these regions, it would be logical to change the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles to the ‘Northern Sea Eagles’ or ‘North Sydney Sea Eagles’.

It is important for Manly to grow in order to survive and prosper and they have an opportunity to become “a behemoth club” representing an area with a combined population of over 1.5 million people.

Featured Image: Courtesy of austadiums.com