Off the Wall

The news today that Victorian fans of the Melbourne Storm will not see the Storm's finals match against the Manly Sea Eagles until midnight on Saturday should come as no surprise - it is simply par for the course.

None of this weekend's four finals matches will be shown live in Melbourne. In fact none will be shown before midnight at the earliest.

And fans cannot turn to Foxtel - either at home or at their local - because Fox Sports does not have the rights to show any finals matches live.

We are constantly being told that we have to play State of Origin matches in Melbourne, and test matches in Melbourne, because we must promote the game in Victoria. This is, and always has been unadulterated codswallop.

The ARL takes games to Melbourne because the Victorian Government aggressively pursues major sporting events full stop. And it puts serious dollars into the process.

I'm not at all critical of the Victorian Government for doing so. It's strategy has been a remarkably successful one.

But we need to forget the idea that rugby league is going to boom in Melbourne because test and origin matches are played there.

Rugby league will never "boom" in Melbourne, and its survival is dependent on the continued generosity of News Limited - or more particularly on News Limited's strategic support...support which runs into millions each year.

If the day comes when news takes the view that it is no longer necessary to fund a team in Melbourne, then the future of the Storm will be in the balance.

That is why Nine's approach to coverage of the game on Melbourne television is deplorable. If News pulled out - and there is no suggestion it is considering doing so - then the only way the Melbourne private sector would fund a team would be if there was substantial media coverage.

The other reason why Nine's approach is not in the game's best interests is that the next Super Fourteen (or whatever it now is) team will be located in Melbourne. Even though the groups competing for the franchise are in open warfare, the existence of a union team in Melbourne will make competition for the corporate sponsorship dollar even tougher.

That is why rugby league - and the Storm in particular - needs maximum media exposure now.

If Nine won't provide it, then Fox Sports should be given the right to do so in Victoria - and other states where the finals are not being shown live on free to air television.

But that is only a band aid solution.

It does not overcome the reality that media coverage for our game in Melbourne has hardly changed since the Storm first entered the competition.

I have been scanning the Melbourne newspapers this week. The coverage for the Storm, and the NRL, is about the same it has always been - minimal.

The fact that Nine has no obligation to show the finals live into Melbourne - even just games involving the Storm - shows there is a serious flaw in the television rights agreement.

Nine gets all the finals series live - Fox, which has done an outstanding job throughout the season showing five or six games live week in, week out, effectively drops out of sight come finals time. In the process, we lose Fox Sports far superior pre-match and post-match coverage.

The next agreement must rectify that. In the meantime, the game in Victoria, and Melbourne, will remain where it has been for a decade - and fans will continue to be short changed.

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