Why the NRL deserves to get its billion

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    Let me start by saying this, I’m an AFL person. I have always been an AFL person. My allegiance to the Broncos in the NRL is more to do with it being tied to my birthplace than any hardcore support like that I reserve for my beloved Carlton.

    So this article may well come as a surprise to some.

    We’re hearing all sorts of numbers and theories concerning the NRL TV rights deal.

    One thing is certain – it will be a lot more than the current arrangement. Given the scope of the AFL broadcast deal and given similar, if not better, ratings to the AFL, it should be patently obvious that the previous rights were woefully undervalued for a variety of reasons.

    However, these have nothing to do with this article.

    Supporters of the AFL are milling about various forums including The Roar with the idea that the NRL cant get as much as the AFL, expressing the view that the AFL is more national and thus more deserving of the greater slice of TV revenue. Yet, viewing numbers on Foxtel and elsewhere indicate support levels are almost the same.

    Then there’s content.

    The Foxtel AFL deal includes the Under 18s championships, the Foxtel Cup, the NAB Cup preseason competition, and nine games a week live on Foxfooty and Fox Sports 1. The Channel Seven AFL deal includes the NAB Cup grand final, and four games a round simulcast on Fox. Both outlets will show the finals and grand final. Telstra have the mobile and internet rights. With contra, this garnered the AFL 1.253 billion dollars – a record for Australian sport.

    The NRL has plenty of content, eight games a week – the season is two weeks longer – and the Toyota Cup. Then there is representative fixtures including City v Country, Kangaroos Test matches, the World Club Challenge and the big daddy of rugby league in Australia, State of Origin. There are calls from some quarters for a pre-season tournament, as well as a return to reserve grade. There may even be an extra game if expansion is approved during this deal.

    Oh, and then theres the New Zealand rights. I’d suggest that the NRL has plenty of content to offer.

    Then there is obviously ratings. Theres no denying that while home and away games run neck and neck with the AFL – especially this year, Origin blows everything away with the exception of the AFL grand final. No matter how you interpret the ratings from Oztam and RegionalTam, the NRL rates highly despite most of its ratings originating in two states (and three of the four biggest ratings areas).

    It remains a phenomenon that isn’t matched even in Melbourne – Sydney viewers of the NRL usually outnumber Melbourne viewers of the AFL. Melbourne is meant to be AFL mad, whereby Sydney is meant to be less earnest in its pursuit of the NRL (although such opinions are generally based on crowds, which has little or nothing to do with TV ratings).

    Finally, what was once lambasted in league media as a shortsighted arrangement, the NRL deal being negotiated after the AFL deal will be seen as a moment of genius when the dust settles. The Independent Commission will have a year to see how the AFL handles its arrangements with simulcasting and anti-siphoning legislation. The Commission will then be able to iron out those bugs during the process. Likewise, with free-to-air broadcasting and digital channels. In short, the NRL will get similar benefits, without many of the problems. Some predict – including myself this time last year – that the NRL figure would be about $850 million. We are going to be wrong.

    The NRL has undergone massive changes in the lead-up to the season. Theres a new Commission made up of genuine business people and several previous obstacles to progress have been removed.

    The News Limited and Fox entanglement is almost gone, and for the first time in years, the NRL has a genuine chance to put a firm foot on the sporting landscape. There’s a determination to do better that has been absent for some time.

    On every relevant benchmark, they meet or exceed, the AFL on raw data.

    They’ll get the billion. They deserve it.

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