Off the Wall

This weekend marks the unofficial start of the NRL season with the time honoured Charity Shield match between the Dragons and the Rabbitohs, but it is the prospect of significant changes to the federal government's anti-siphoning legislation that has my interest, and I hope, that of the NRL.

The Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has dropped a fairly broad hint that the review into the anti-siphoning laws, and the reserved list of sports, might see a tougher enforcement of "use it or lose it" provisions .

If that happens, then rugby league stands to be a significant beneficiary - provided the loopholes in the laws are closed.

Ironically - and this may surprise some readers - AFL fans stand to benefit just as much, if not more so.

At present rugby league has one live match on free to air television each weekend - the Friday night match - one shown with a delay of around an hour - the Sunday afternoon fixture - and one shown a couple of hours after it is played - the second Friday night game.

The remainder of the eight fixtures each weekend are shown live on pay television. - though the second game on Saturday night is a "viewer's choice" match.

On the face of it, rugby league fans now get reasonable live coverage - but there is a catch especially if you don't live in Sydney or Brisbane, in particular.

Channel Nine in Melbourne consistently refuses to show the Melbourne Storm's games which are on free to air television (and as the Storm are the premiers they will get high free to air exposure this year) live. The games are generally replayed around midnight.

Nine will probably claim it obeys the rules by showing games "live" in Sydney and Brisbane. But how about Melbourne? And Perth?

Rugby league needs the anti-siphoning "use it or lose it" provision to take account of the Melbourne situation, and be toughened. I have no doubt the AFL wants the same in Sydney and Brisbane.

If Nine won't show games that are shown in Brisbane and Sydney live, pay television must be able to do so - and not just in Melbourne.

If rugby league wants to secure a long term place in Melbourne, and a financially viable one, maximum television coverage of matches is essential. It won't be achieved by one off test or origin matches.

The review of the anti-siphoning laws might also shine the spotlight on the Sunday afternoon "match of the day". It is not shown live, or anywhere near live. If the "use it or lose it" provisions are tightened then Nine might be forced to show the match live. We can but live in hope!

The arrival of pay television, and its continued growth, must surely mean the era of delayed major sport telecasts is just about over.

Rugby league is a success story on the Nine network, but arguably an even greater success on Fox Sports. The majority of top rating sports programmes on pay television are NRL matches.

We need changes to the anti-siphoning laws that close loopholes (such as delayed telecasts) and strengthen "use it or lose it" provisions (such as how the NRL is neglected by Nine in Melbourne).

In reality, we are not asking for that much - but it would make a massive difference of we get it!

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