Is it unreasonable to suggest that the biggest domestic sporting event in Australia would generate enough money to see the participants in that contest earning $50,000 each?
No, not really?
That is the situation we face right now with the State Of Origin series.
The Rugby League Players Association is pushing for a pay increase for State Of Origin players, from the current $20,000 per game up to the figure they want of $50,000 per game.
It sounds like a hell of a lot of money, but when you look at what State Of Origin generates, it is actually a lower percentage of the overall money the series makes than NRL players receive from the money the NRL competition generates.
Far from being an unreasonable “demand”, it is actually quite conservative. They RLPA could actually demand three times as much and it would still be economically viable.
So the push for each player in the State Of Origin series to receive $50,000 per game is not about affordability, because the game can afford it. It is more a case of public sentiment and many people not realizing that the series generates so much money that such figures are well within the games budget.
I love looking at the business side of Rugby League and even to me, when I first heard that $50,000 per game figure, I was shocked. So your average punter, your casual fan, they would no doubt think that figure is beyond ridiculous, when in fact, it isn’t.
In the next broadcasting deal is it very likely that State Of Origin and International football will be sold off in one block to maximize the amount of money the game can get from both. The State Of Origin is actually seen as the jewel in the crowd of the entire broadcasting deal.
It is the one domestic football series that generates national attention, that rates well in every single major television market, that gets lock down, shut out, guaranteed ratings wins in all of NSW and Queensland, it is basically like getting three Grand Finals to broadcast every single year.
So the money side, it isn’t an issue. Players should get $50,000 per game because quite simply, they generate far more than $50,000 per game during the Origin series.
What about the other impacts on the game though?
Forget this idea that all of that money would no filter down to junior Rugby League. I don’t think that happens anyway. I don’t believe anyone will miss out on any money they are getting right now, this extra money that players are asking for will be more than covered by the increases in the broadcasting deal anyway.
Everyone will get more money from now on.
The big problem will come from the incredible riches that State Of Origin will now offer players, and the impossible to turn down chance to earn $50,000 in one game when compared to playing for other nations.
I touched on this issues recently in the article Complex Eligibility Issues, The Effects On A Players Circumstances, And How To Fix The Lot and we saw the direct effects the financial lure that State Of Origin had this year on New Zealand born, New South Wales eligible forward James Tamou.
By turning his back on the country of his birth, Tamou has guaranteed himself at least $70,000 more this year than he earned last year.
Imagine that next season you are a young New Zealander, Samoan, Tonga or Fijian….and you moved to Australia when you were 14 which qualifies you to play in State Of Origin football. You can decide to play for the country of your birth, know you will hardly play any decent games outside of World Cups, where the chances are you’ll get smashed by Australia anyway….
You can decide to put your hand up to play State Of Origin. If you do, you could ear $150,000 more than you current earn by playing in just three games.
I don’t care how proud you are of the country you are born in, you have to take that deal!
That is the danger of making State Of Origin so lucrative. It will basically canalization international Rugby League in the southern hemisphere, and we can not afford to let that happen.
What I would like to see happen is a representative wide view taken of the game in the next broadcasting deal. If we are going to spin off State Of Origin and International Rugby League as one package, pool all of the money from both areas of the game together and work out match payments from there.
If State Of Origin players earned $40,000 per game, which is double what they do now, and the extra money was spent to raise match payments for and playing conditions for New Zealand and Pacific Islands test teams, would that help alleviate the problem of State Of Origin football eating away at Test football?
Australia and the ARLC can not just look at our own back yard. Even if you look at it from a selfish point of view and say that we need to spend money in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands because we want to build those players bases so that we have more depth in our own club competition, we need to be willing to spend money generated in Australia by Australian players on international teams in the Pacific Islands.
The end goal should be that we want Australia to have opposition that is good enough that it generates even more money for the representative broadcasting and sponsorship pool. We should be looking to list the standards of New Zealand and Pacific Islands nations so that at the end of each season, Australia can play all of these teams, at home, and offer the public a good enough show that they will pay money to go and see it.
I have no doubt that if State Of Origin players knew a 20% pay cut from their State Of Origin demands went straight into the pockets of players from Pacific Islands nations to develop test football, they would be more than happy to accept just $40,000 per game.
It would need work though, and it would need to result in an outcome that not only players could see, but that broadcasters and sponsors could benefit from as well.
One last thing extra payments for representative football should bring an end to is the act of giving contract bonuses at club level for representative football selection.
These clauses in contracts have been an issue for a number of teams over the years and have meant some teams have either needed to shed players or they have gone over the salary cap.
If a player can earn up to $50,000 a game playing State Of Origin, do they really need a clause in their contract to earn more from their club? I personally don’t think so.
At the end of the day, this is a really nice problem for Rugby League to have. With a bit of forward thinking it could have an incredibly positive impact on international football. However, if our games administrators don’t look at the wider impact on the game, and they just focus on Australia, it could cause major issues that will be must harder to address.
For once, the games administrators need to be proactive rather than reactive.
Over to you John Grant.
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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