Off the Wall

The Australian Rugby League Board meeting today will almost certainly seal the fate of the widely supported proposal for our game to be run by an independent commission, and owned by the 16 NRL clubs.

Despite the unanimous backing of the 16 NRL clubs, and that of News Limited, there is absolutely no guarantee the proposal will become a reality.

It appears that the Queensland Rugby League is determined to have a very different ownership structure - with the ARL owning 50 per cent and the 16 clubs 15 per cent.

Just exactly how the NSWRL component of the ARL will react to that will probably be known by the end of the day. The NSWRL has a majority on the ARL, through the votes exercised by the ARL Chairman, Colin Love, and the CEO, Geoff Carr.

The ownership structure will clearly influence whether or not News Limited proceeds with its plan to exit its 50 per cent ownership of the NRL.

If the ARL/NSWRL/QRL exercise the kind of ownership the QRL apparently wants, it will be staying put.

The ownership structure is important but of even greater urgency is the need for the game to be run by an independent commission.

The AFL is run by an independent commission - a body which will drive the AFL's free to air and pay television negotiations this year. The AFL will speak with one voice in its push to lift its return from television rights from about $780 million to $1 billion over a five year period.

By the time rugby league starts to negotiate its post-2012 rights, and that will be before the end of the year, it needs to have in place the best possible ownership and management structures for the future.

The AFL needs to extract around $220 million extra from broadcast rights to get to the $1 billion target. If the NRL has a similar target - and it should given the high ratings and audience numbers being enjoyed by rugby league - then it needs to get an extra $400 million.

If the game remains burdened with a costly and inefficient administration that task will be just that much harder!

The leading media advertising buyer, Harold Mitchell, said at the weekend that the major football codes were entitled to get more for their rights. Not only does sport, and especially the NRL, dominate pay television ratings, half the top 25 programmes on free to air television are sports programmes, and that includes AFL and NRL games, the Melbourne Cup and other individual events.

The good thing about rugby league rights post 2012 is that it is apparent the free to air race won't be a one horse race as it was last time.

The Channel Seven network, which is today in a better financial state than its rivals, is clearly keen to get back into rugby league.

It will soon launch a weekly rugby league programme - apparently on Wednesday's nights - that will be anchored by Matthew Johns.

Fans should welcome that...the more competition there is for TV rights, the better the outcome there will be for the game.

But if we are to maximise the return - and give the game what it deserves - the game must speak with one competent, respected, voice.

That fact alone should be enough to persuade today's ARL meeting to help deliver an independent commission without delay.