Off the Wall

Monday night football has come and gone for another year - and the debate about its role in the rugby league calendar will continue.

The clubs don't like it, the players don't like it, but the pay television audience certainly loves it. And that is why, whatever the arguments against it, Monday night football will be in the 2010 calendar.

For the opponents of Monday night fixtures, the case is only going to get weaker, as the expanded AFL competition is 2011 is likely to include Monday night AFL premiership matches, and possibly even Thursday night matches.

While Monday night crowds are generally well below those of other days and nights, the television ratings are excellent - with the well produced Monday night league pre-game, match and post-game segments a viewing must for fans with pay television.

The Monday night telecast is among the highest rating of all Foxtel programmes, and it will be a real plus for the NRL in the next round of broadcasting rights negotiations.

The advent of Monday night AFL football won't harm the ratings of the NRL Monday night match significantly...but it might draw away some of the viewing audience in the AFL states. But when the NRL and the AFL do go head to head on pay television rugby league does very well indeed.

There is another welcome benefit from Monday night games. It enables some media attention to be distracted from the seemingly weekly parade of players behaving badly on Saturday and Sunday nights!

The opposition of the clubs is generally understandable. Monday night is a particularly bad one for clubs like the North Queensland Cowboys who draw their membership, and spectators from centres to the north, south and west of Townsville itself...centres four or five hours by road from the venue.

But the game needs every positive it can muster in what is going to be a very difficult rights negotiating period sometime in 2010.

The alternative of Sunday night football does not have much attraction to the pay television provider. The AFL has a Sunday twilight match each week but the jury is out on whether fans like Sunday night for viewing, let alone attending, matches.

Even the Sunday night grand final - which Nine had been hanging on to for dear life - has been whittled away and won't return. And Sunday night was only an attraction when the next day was a public holiday in NSW.

What is under threat is the second Friday night fixture. Its television ratings have been disappointing. Nine has been trying to be too clever by half by programming Queensland teams virtually every Friday night, and showing the alternate game on delay, even if it is a more interesting, or of greater consequence.

The reverse happens in NSW when the game involving the Queensland team is a better contest.

The result has been generally poor ratings for the delayed match.

It probably won't happen, but the game really needs to start reclaiming Saturday afternoon especially as the challenge from the AFL in South East Queensland and Western Sydney grows.

The AFL won't be giving up Saturday afternoons when it expands its competition in 2011. It gets maximum free to air television and radio coverage, and Saturday night news follow ups.

It would be interesting to see how a trial series of Saturday afternoon NRL fixtures, ideally played at suburban g rounds, would be received by fans, and viewers. I suspect the response would be overwhelmingly positive.

But as for Monday nights, congratulations need to be handed out to Fox Sports for a presentation that runs close to four hours. It is quality stuff, with a total football focus. Just what the game needs in challenging times!