After taking on the AFL's finals system and forming a similar independent commission, NRL clubs are adopting the membership drives of their rival code by connecting with their communities to boost their finances.
Years of low ticket-holding memberships have hindered club's revenue streams. But clubs have now engaged more closely with fans in their communities, which officials say has resulted in increases in the number of season ticket holders.
''It's awareness about the need for people to support their team financially,'' Newcastle general manager of marketing Paul Grzanka said. ''If you look at AFL in Melbourne, if you don't contribute financially they don't view you as a supporter.
''It's one thing to support your club and it's another to put your hand in your pocket and support your club.''
At this time last year, the Knights had fewer than 5000 ticket holders. Since Nathan Tinkler's takeover, the club has been part of a chorus of NRL teams engaging the community and creating a greater sense of pride in being part of a club. The Knights now boast 15,000 season ticket holders.
Having been given the freedom to handle membership and ticketing independently, NRL clubs have chosen to follow the method established by AFL teams that have set benchmark membership figures.
NRL marketing manager Michael Johnstone said: ''A lot of the [NRL] clubs have visited AFL clubs, but our role is to change people's understanding of what membership is … what we've tried to do over the years is stress the importance of membership to rugby league fans and distinguish the difference between season ticket holders and league club membership. It's more than a season ticket, it's belonging to and becoming a member of the family.''
Historically, NRL clubs have had a weak base of season-ticket holding members, instead relying on league club members who individually contribute much smaller annual fees. Four years ago, Canterbury had just 1000 members, however after modelling their community engagement on AFL giants such as Hawthorn and Collingwood, have already passed the 11,000 mark. Since 2008, the Bulldogs have built a strong network of active fans through player-member interaction days, large-scale social network interaction and have even retired the No.18 jersey in honour of their members.
South Sydney are emerging as one of the largest clubs in terms of members, with 19,500 fans having taken up paid memberships - with more than 12,000 of them season ticket holders. This success is largely due to their strong interaction with local schools and the community. Throughout this pre-season, 20 players have run workshops at local schools, as well as regional centres such as Coffs Harbour.
''One of the reasons why we're so successful with our memberships is because people have bought into our community programs,'' Souths chief executive Shane Richardson said. ''It's not just about football but about what Souths means to the community. Our players did over 2000 hours of community work last year and we will continue to work within the community to make people feel good about the Souths brand.''
The NRL expects more than 210,000 fans to take up season tickets in 2012, passing last year's record of 180,250. Other clubs' ticket-holding membership figures currently are: Brisbane - 16,000; St George Illawarra - 12,000; Wests Tigers - 10,000; Melbourne - 8386; Sydney Roosters - 8345; Canberra - 6275.