As the National Rugby League continues to negotiate its next broadcasting agreement news has emerged that Fox Sports wants to shake up the current broadcasting schedule by adding an early Friday Night match at 6pm AEST and buying Channel 9’s Saturday Night Game, giving Fox Sports its “Super Saturday” back while moving Channel 9’s match to Thursday night.
NRL supporters on social media tore into the proposed schedule, which happens with every decision that is made anyway, but the prevailing feeling was that Thursday Night Football isn’t liked at all while the earlier 6pm kickoff to a match on a Friday Night would just be weird.
Already it has been suggested that the 6pm match on Friday Night would mostly include a New Zealand team, and to me that scream of being the perfect opportunity to expand the competition and add a second New Zealand team to the NRL to compliment the New Zealand Warriors and take advantage of the new time slot that Fox Sports wants to make their own.
New Zealand already produces so much home grown talent that every single NRL club takes advantage of. There is no question New Zealand produces enough high quality players to field a second NRL team right now. The New Zealand Warriors are showing that they are capable of luring players back home to the shaky isles, there is no reason to suggest that a second New Zealand based franchise wouldn’t be able to do the same thing.
I believe having some competition on home soil would actually help the New Zealand Warriors as a club. It would give them a local derby to promote and give them some home grown competition, which can only force them to improve different aspects of their own operation.
Having a second New Zealand based team would be perfect for the new 6pm time slot as that translates into an 8pm kickoff in New Zealand. If that is shared equally between the two New Zealand based clubs, you end up with the perfect situation for broadcasters, both clubs, and fans of the game in New Zealand who get a Friday night game on home soil every single week that they can look forward to.
There are similar dynamics in play in Brisbane, where the Brisbane Broncos are favoured by broadcasters to hold the Friday night time slot, and the lack of an alternative to the Broncos actually causes a few issues. Brisbane is almost certain to get a second club when the next round of expansion occurs for this reason. It will allow broadcasters to show relevant content into Brisbane at the ideal time slots that aren’t always Broncos matches.
Then we have to consider Western Australia, where Perth is screaming out for an NRL club. This would expand the NRL’s national footprint, something that is vital if the game really expects to be the dominant code in Australia, and a move that itself makes sense in terms on television time slots.
A game played in Perth during Sunday afternoon, one of the more favoured kickoff times for fans who attend games, can actually translate into a 6pm kickoff time on the east coast of Australia.
By adding a club in Perth at least 50% of your Sunday night, 6pm broadcasts on the east coast of Australia can become fan friendly events rather than being a crowd killer as we sometimes see when these games are played on the east coast of Australia.
All of the above expansion options and the way they will be folded into the next broadcasting agreement will be discussed by the NRL and its clubs over the coming months. Broadcasters too will have their say.
One thing that is certain is that Rugby League fans will need to get use to a changed broadcasting schedule. The game is changing, peoples viewing habits are changing, and if the competition expands you will almost certainly see an end to the days where you would sit down on a weekend and watch every single game.
That isn’t a bad thing, it is a good thing. I fully expect that when the game gets towards 20 teams, we will almost see games played every single day of the week. By that time hopefully supporters are use to the changes to the weekly schedule.