It is the dream scenario for the National Rugby League, the worst case scenario for Fox Sport and it would be a deal that would change Australian television in a very dramatic way.
The Sydney Daily Telegraph article Channel Ten to attempt to snatch NRL broadcast rights from Channel Nine outlines moves by Channel 10 to broadcast every single game of the NRL season on Free To Air television between Channel 10 and their One HD channel, which was launched as a dedicated sports channel.
Channel 10 would kill for the ratings the NRL would give them. To show every game every week, Channel 10 would instantly have content that would drive ratings and that they could sell major advertising on. Rugby League would become the basis of the entire network and with the NRL filling in the weekends, it would allow their successful reality TV programs during week days to finally make them a player against Channels 7 and 9.
It would cost a lot of money though. One network outlaying over a billion dollars over five years….that is one hell of a commitment.
From the NRL’s point of view, this would be the dream scenario.
Free To Air TV gives them so much more exposure than Pay TV does. It would instantly help the game gain greater sponsorship deals as all of their games would be accessible to every household in Australia. Something Pay TV simply can not even get close to doing.
Imagine how much easier it would be for the Canberra Raiders to sign a big major sponsorship deal if they were guaranteeing nations exposure every single week rather than just being lucky to get a half dozen games that are only really showed in NSW and Queensland.
An NRL move completely away from Pay TV would be devastating for the entire Pay TV industry. This is an industry build on subscribers looking to sign up to watch Rugby League. That is what the Super League War was all about! The reason Foxtel has invested so heavily in AFL is because the penetration of Pay TV in AFL markets is not nearly as good as it is in NSW and QLD.
If Foxtel was to lose all of its Rugby League coverage, they would lose hundreds of thousands of subscribers. They just can not afford for that to happen. That would effect not just their sports channels, that would effect the money they pour into many other areas as well. It would be devastating to the Pay TV industry.
One question about all games being on Free To Air TV would be the effect it would have on crowds. Because Pay TV is not in every home, a lot of people get their NRL fix by attending games. Especially when it comes to teams like the Norther Queensland Cowboys, Canberra Raiders, Newcastle Knights and Melbourne Storm. If every single game was on Free To Air TV, you would have to expect that some people would decide to just stay at home to watch.
Having said that, I think this would easily be off set by the opportunity to make new fans through the exposure the game would be getting on a weekly basis. You would also find that there would be the ability to delay coverage in certain areas which would stop the drain on crowds.
Now, one big issue with all of the above is that two major shareholders of Channel 10 are James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch. Both also have a stake in Foxtel. I can not see these two destroying the Pay TV market, which they have an interest in, even if it means they would gain quite a lot from their stake in Channel 10.
You also have to question where the money would be coming from. Channel 10 aren’t exactly flushed with funds.
The real wildcard in the fight for Rugby Leagues broadcasting rights is Channel 7. They have a large commitment to AFL coverage but they are said to still have the money to bid for at least some of the Rugby League broadcasting rights.
It is thought they are looking at trying to get State Of Origin, which would be a big blow to Channel 9, but you also have to consider that if Channel 7 got the NRL rights they would screw over a major Free To Air TV competitor (Channel 9) as well as those within the Pay TV industry who Channel 7 took to court for anti competitive practices after the fall of its Pay TV sports channel C7 sports.
They lost that court case, so if there was now a way for Channel 7 to get a little pay back to basically everyone they sued in that case, I wouldn’t put it past them. With both the AFL and Rugby League rights, Channel 7 would be a broadcasting behemoth.
At the very least it is all very interesting to this about. The possibilities are endless however at the end of the day you have to look at where the money is coming from.
Of all the scenarios, all the consequences and all the players involved, I think what we will end up with is a mix of deals.
I think we will see Channel 9 showing Friday night and Sunday afternoon NRL games. I think we will see Channel 10 showing Saturday night and Monday night NRL games. I think Channel 7 will grab State Of Origin and International football (Which I think will be sold in one block).
That would leave Foxtel with five NRL games to show ever weekend, which just happens to be what they show right now. This of course takes into account the NRL providing one extra game per round due to expansion from 16-18 teams.
The Television industry is a complicated mix of interests and personalities with everyone seemingly have same stake in both camps. We may now find that Rugby League is independent of any media companies, however now the game will find it is dealing with people who are working both sides of the table anyway.
How it all pans out will be very interesting to see. All I hope for is that the game gets paid what it deserves, as the most watch sport in Australia, and that it becomes easier to watch Rugby League games, especially outside of NSW and Queensland.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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