There has been news recently in League circles detailing the collective desire of most club officals to have a fixed schedule in the NRL.
Many of them cited the inherent advantage the Brisbane Broncos receive, on many levels, through the almost constant scheduling of the Brisbane club’s games on a Friday night on Channel Nine.
At this stage the Broncos look set to feature on Friday in every round leading up to the State Of Origin series.
While having a set seven-day break between matches is advantageous in terms of routine, the commercial opportunities afforded to the Broncos through regular national exposure is the element that is creating the most resentment among rival clubs.
Cronulla, who are yet to receive a Friday game and with none in sight, have yet to sign a major sponsor. It’s representatives have some of the loudest voices when it comes to creating a set schedule for the entire season, as happens in the AFL.
Part of that plan would include a supposedly ‘fair’ spread of Friday night games for all clubs. David Gallop and the Independent Commission should not let themselves be intimidated by self-interested voices that disingenuously shriek for ‘fairness’.
I am an advocate for scheduling the entire NRL season in advance. Most major sports do it, and with good reason: it allows clubs to market their games more effectively. It also helps fans, especially those season ticket-holders and members who like to attend multiple games, to plan well in advance.
That said, a set schedule should have absolutely no bearing on which clubs play on a Friday night in front of a national audience.
The idea that the big TV games should be shared evenly is ridiculous. Yes, clubs should receive all the support the NRL can offer, from grants to organizational assistance and of course, their fair share of marketing appropriate for an NRL franchise.
But sport is entertainment, and the fact is that certain clubs simply have a more appealing brand. The vast majority of League fans, in a given NRL season, do not want to see Cronulla on a Friday night. Or any other currently mediocre team with little appeal.
I do believe that Brisbane has an unfair advantage, which is why a second team is needed in that city to provide some kind of competition for the abundance of elite juniors that emerge each year in that part of the country.
But if executives and supporters of Sydney clubs want a fairer competition, if they truly want to compete with Brisbane for national exposure, they have two choices- build an extremely competitive club with a large fan base, or call for further rationalization of Sydney clubs- a prospect most Sydney-based fans abhor.
Those crying foul over selections for TV games are kidding themselves if they think a full set schedule would cure their ills. In this case the ARLC would simply rate teams a year in advance based on the best available information and then allocate the highly-rated teams a majority of the prime slots.
Which is how it should be. Rewarding mediocrity is a recipe for more of that same mediocrity splashed across our television screens on a weekly basis. The NRL must avoid this proposed race to the bottom. The only ‘fair’ thing to do in this situation is to broadcast the best matches to the biggest audiences.
Anything less is detrimental to the health of the game.