Off the Wall

The television ratings for Sunday's grand final are exceptionally good - and ought to provide a sound basis for the negotiation of a significantly better television rights deal from 2012 onwards.

I stress "ought" because good ratings alone won't guarantee what the game desperately needs - a total income package from the television deal of $200 million - $250 million more than the current arrangement with Nine and Fox Sports.

The total grand final viewing audience - capital cities and regions - exceeded that of the AFL grand final, but not by much. The NRL grand final attracted 3.49 million viewers, the AFL equivalent 3.47 million. While the AFL unsurprisingly won in the five mainland cities, the NRL trounced it in the regions.

The outstanding figure in the ratings was Melbourne. The game attracted an average of 682,000 viewers in Melbourne - up from 487,000 in 2008 when the Storm were also in the grand final.

What a pity Channel Nine in Melbourne, and regional Victoria, did not reward such extraordinary support by giving them a fair go? But no, as I reported yesterday, the telecast did not start until 4.30 and finished on the final whistle.

I am sure Nine in Melbourne is beyond shame, but David Gallop needs to stand up and be counted - and demand from its rights holder a fairer deal for Melbourne and Victorian audiences.

And while on the television coverage - Nine clearly shares my view, and that of many, on the so called pre-match entertainment! In Queensland, and perhaps in NSW, the Toyota Cup final, and what a game that was, was followed by a half hour programme on traffic police!

What happened to the days when watching the grand final was an "event"?

The "entertainment" was disappointing, even when it was shown. Perhaps we are fortunate the television coverage was truncated! The NRL should seek the advice of Bob Abbott, who did a magnificent job organising the grand final day entertainment in the NSWRL era - and ditch whoever put together Sunday's very ordinary show.

Back to the ratings. The NRL needs to get on the front foot when it comes to the next rights agreement.

The problem is that it going to start on the back foot - and the consequences of that may be serious.

By the time the NRL gets around to negotiating the next rights deal, the AFL will have concluded its next agreement. It has been in discussions with the major networks for some time.

If, as is expected, Seven and Ten again share the AFL rights, then it will leave Nine in the box seat to negotiate a new NRL agreement - and do so basically on its terms!

The negotiations should be brought forward - and if that means offering some concessions then so be it.

But there is one point the NRL must take a firm line on.

In Nine in Melbourne won't telecast the Storm's games, and other major games such as the finals and origin, at a reasonable hour, there must be a provision for the pay television provider to do so into the Melbourne and Victorian markets.

The farce that was inflicted on viewers this season, and in previous seasons, simply cannot continue.

In summary - great grand final viewing numbers. Now it is up to the NRL to turn them into a substantial long term gain for the game.

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