I would like you to think back for a moment. How old were you on March 31st, 1995? For that was the last day that rugby league in this country enjoyed freedom. We haven’t had it since.
After sending the ARL broke in courtroom battles and forcing many rugby league sides to the wall, News Ltd got what it wanted – cheap rugby league content on its pay TV network and ownership of the NRL.
There are league fans today who have never seen a ‘free’ rugby league, they cannot even imagine it.
1995 was also significant for the AFL. After recommendations from the Crawford Report the AFL Commission gained complete freedom and independence, and the last two AFL broadcast deals have shown what a free Independent Commission can achieve.
Under News Ltd ownership rugby league simply treads water while News Ltd allows rugby league, the number one sport on its pay TV network, to be undersold for its own benefit.
The joint leadership of a self interested global media corporation and the two archaic self interested state bodies has been of tremendous detriment to the growth of the game.
The wonderful news for rugby league fans is this will not last forever. You will soon see a new rugby league, one with even more potential than the old pre-1995 rugby league that News Ltd coveted so much. Rugby league will finally win back its freedom through the ARL Commission.
The question is, what can an independent commission do for rugby league when negotiating later this year with potentially three FTA Networks, Foxtel, and Telstra?
They can negotiate with networks Nine and Ten, who have saved their reserves by not making a serious bid on AFL, and also industry leading Seven, who did not pay more for AFL now that Seven/Ten did five years ago.
They can negotiate with Foxtel where they are the number one rating sport and crucial to Foxtel’s survival, and to the new player Telstra, who are already the major sponsor of the NRL.
Many AFL fans will scoff at the suggestion that the NRL could sign a TV deal equal to or greater that the AFL. They either don’t remember a pre 1995 rugby league, or in the days before the internet knew little of it.
But think about this for a moment. How much revenue would the AFL Commission have gained in their latest broadcasting rights agreement if they had been selling the sport that rated number one on Foxtel, had the highest accumulative TV figures in the country, and had a regular season, final series, State of Origin, Internationals, National Youth Competition, and the Indigenous All Star game to sell?
Would they have got more than $1.2 billion?
If the much anticipated ARL Commission comes to fruition in the coming months rugby league fans will need to learn a long forgotten skill.
How to think big. Really big.