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Opinion

Four takeaways from Channel Nine’s biff with the NRL

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Roar Guru
15th April, 2020
11
2709 Reads

Last week Channel Nine came out and slammed the NRL, claiming they knew nothing about the plans to relaunch the season on May 28.

A lot of water’s gone under the bridge since then. Here are my four takeaways.

The NRL hasn’t been mismanaged, financially at least
I must admit, when I heard about the NRL’s financial problems, my gut instinct was: ‘what about the $1.8b broadcast deal?’

The common reaction to COVID-19 (and any financial pressure, no matter the size) is to do little things to cut costs – axing the morning lattes, even back when cafes were still open.

This is flawed, it means we’re looking internally not externally. We’re more focused on saving the $3.50 daily than increasing our earnings.

Theoretically, you could earn any amount of money. Billions even. How much more saving could you do?

Probably a bit, but you’ll always have costs that you can’t cut. Todd Greenberg outlined something similar to Phil Rothfield ten days ago.

The NRL punch above their weight in revenue. At $1.8 billion for the last broadcast deal, they could barely go higher.

In terms of cost-cutting, yes they could do more, but to drastically reduce spending would mean axing the NRLW, or at least removing salaries, cutting funds to the various state organisations, and paying less to grassroots.

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If the NRL were to do any of these things, Buzz and co. would be just as outraged as if they weren’t cutting expenditure.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg speaks during the 2018 NRL Finals Series Launch at Allianz Stadium on September 3, 2018 in Sydney, Australia.

(Matt King/Getty Images)

Channel Nine is arrogant
Honestly, hearing Channel Nine’s statement (attributed to a spokesperson, always says something) made me angry.

Who are they to tell the NRL how to run its show? If I pay my landlord $300 weekly, and he spends $50 on a vase, bloody let him.

Of course, Nine couldn’t care less where the money went after they paid it – they just want to hammer home to the NRL that they could walk away at any time, and that the NRL needs them.

Self-interest and the NRL, name a more iconic duo; perfectly exemplified by Nick Politis recently demanding the ladder be reset and the points from the first two games taken away. Does anyone think he’d be saying this if his team were 2-0?

But Nine are in no position to talk about mismanagement. This is coming from a company which axed the only entertaining presenter on breakfast TV back in 2018, and relies on the NRL and TV’s trashiest show to make money.

For them to release a “vision for the game” on Tuesday that basically demanded to pay less, yet get some games exclusively (which is practically admitting that anyone who can watch games on both Nine and Fox Sports choose Fox) epitomises their attitude.

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No one’s in the box seat here, but Nine need the NRL, and the NRL doesn’t really need Nine.

One thing right
The broadcaster has got one thing right, in their outlined vision for the code they’ve suggested axing the Friday 6pm game. The NRL introduced it with a mind to give every game its own timeslot, as opposed to the previously simultaneous Friday night games, or packing in a third game on Sunday.

But the premise is flawed: billed as a ‘family friendly’ time, 6pm is unrealistic for families.

There’s no way you can leave work at 5pm, commute home in peak hour, have dinner and get the kids fed, then drive to the game and queue up for entry, all within 60 minutes.

Just not possible. Hell, when New Zealand Friday night Super Rugby kickoff times were moved forward half an hour to 7:05, the overwhelming sentiment was against it. Even when Monday night football was still a thing, the 7pm kickoff time was seen as too difficult.

Take away this game (unless the Warriors are at home) and turn the focus to the main Friday night fixture.

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Nine’s keenness for the NRL waning?
Clearly Nine won’t survive without the NRL, but maybe they can get by with less NRL. The Sydneny Morning Herald has reported Nine want to give up the Thursday night fixture and focus on Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

They won’t see any other times as viable; the twilight slots on Friday and Saturday clash with the news, the 3pm Saturday game doesn’t rate well enough, while the early Sunday game would jar with their reserve grade coverage.

They’re reimbursed for these fixtures by the QRL and NSWRL respectively, meaning they won’t want to give up a guaranteed profit on programming, even if these matches rate terribly.

Phil 'Gus' Gould

How would the game be different without Channel Nine? (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

For the Canterbury Cup, ratings are slightly above 25,000, often beating those of the A-League, Super Rugby, and Super Netball.

This makes sense from their point of view. Showing six games a week would be detrimental to them cost-wise, while showing just one would lose the NRL audiences they carry three times a week. So the optimal number is two to four, and they’re leaning towards two.

This whole saga has been a storm in a teacup from Nine, who are making no secret of the fact they want out on the current broadcast deal.

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