ARU must follow FFA’s free-to-air lead
Is this the best ever season of Super Rugby? (Image: NSW Waratahs)
News that Football Federation Australia are considering splitting their TV rights deal, to ensure one game a week on free-to-air TV, shows they value the importance of exposure.
While the FFA risk their revenue from Foxtel being reduced, they realise the value gained by having free-to-air exposure is worth as much, if not more.
Football has always suffered since it went exclusively to pay TV for both Socceroos and A League games, effecting cutting off its exposure to the masses (envied by all other footy codes).
Yet the FFA had to cut that deal at the time for the money, in order to keep the professional game alive in Australia.
Australian rugby was never in the same turmoil that football was, but has been just as beholden to pay TV since it funded the conversion to professionalism in 1996. Old habits die hard and the filthy lucre is hard to give up.
The problem to many is that rugby has been withering on the vine, exposure-wise; its main competition Super Rugby can only be seen in Australia on pay TV.
Meanwhile, AFL and rugby league are prospering, with their wall-to-wall exposure on free-to-air.
While there had been noises and rumbles about some free-to-air coverage for Super Rugby, the current TV deal – which commenced in 2011 – has seen the most free-to-air exposure for the code since the initial deal in 1996 (which, from memory, Seven botched or didn’t stick with, or both).
Mind you, that free-to-air coverage is nothing more than a regurgitated Fox Sports highlights package, around midnight on Channel Nine.
The FFA is looking at SBS – the traditional home of football in Australia, and the FFA knows it – showing one game a week. This shows exactly the type of thinking (or, in the case of the ARU, probably an epiphany) that Australian rugby needs.
Times have been tougher recently, thanks to the International Rugby Board’s poor handling of the World Cup and inbound tours for the southern hemisphere (you’d never see the Six Nations get mucked about the same way).
But the ARU needs to bite the bullet and realise it needs to get its product out there.
While this is complicated by being part of SANZAR, the next TV deal for Australian rugby absolutely has to have some free-to-air coverage, along the same lines as the mooted FFA/SBS deal.
They could allow a simulcast with Fox and cop some less money, but they must get a game on free-to-air.
Friday night, Saturday evening, Sunday anytime, I don’t care; we need Australian rugby out there selling itself.
It doesn’t even need to be game of the round (because that would affect the revenue badly); just so long as it is an Australian side playing (although Aussie derbies would be even better).
Mr O’Neill won’t be here for the next TV deal.
But the ARU (hopefully in Commission mode by then, thanks to the Cosgrove-Arbib review currently underway) needs to take off the tweed jackets, step away from the buffet, roll up their sleeves and cut a deal that best serves Australian rugby as a whole.
It might mean sacrificing the second serve of saveloys, or that second assistant kicking coach, but it’d be worth it.
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