Off the Wall

Media headlines screaming today about NRL players being "in revolt" are an exaggeration but there is no doubt the more experienced representative players are increasingly unhappy with their "working conditions".

Yesterday the NRL issued a long media release - obviously aware that a couple of senior players had made their grievances public - which essentially confirms that the salary cap will not change, but goes into some detail on where the $157 million the NRL has to spend each year is actually spent.

If the release was intended to pacify the critics - and players and the players association in particular - it may well have the opposite effect.

The claim by the NRL Players Association today that the NRL runs the risk of "becoming the code you play until you get a better offer from someone else" is an exaggeration unless you include UK Super League in the "someone else " else category!

When I last checked there are now over 100 ex-NRL players in the UK Super League competition. Where would it be without them?

The real question is how can the drain on NRL players to our code in the UK be reduced? That is an issue that may be able to be addressed - million dollar offers from the AFL after publicity not genuine player recruits cannot. Nor should they be!

The NRL is not in a position to increase the salary cap - and the great majority of clubs cannot afford to do so either.

The only way, as I see it, is to bring about an early and meaningful negotiation of the next television rights agreement.

If, as the NRL expects (or hopes) the next agreement brings about an extra $300 million or more over the five year term of the agreement then the salary cap could be increased by at least a million dollars a club a year.

But the NRL, largely of its own making, has got itself into a real bind time wise.

The current agreement with Nine prevents the NRL from starting negotiations on the next agreement until 2011. The AFL agreement is going to be negotiated this year - on timing set by the AFL not the rights holders.

If the NRL could commence negotiations now, and not have to wait until 2011 - and they might then not be concluded until late 2011 - it could have an indication of the pool of money that will be available from 2013 onwards.

If the new agreement - which is likely to be with more than one free to air channel as well as Fox Sports - delivered an extra $60 million a year, surely the NRL could phase in a salary cap increase from this year onwards. The idea of borrowing against future income streams is hardly revolutionary!

But as things stand it cannot even begin negotiations until 2011!

Surely the NRL can talk to Nine and other rights holders and bring negotiations forward?

The current "review" of the salary cap will be a totally meaningless exercise if the total "spend" available to the NRL remains what it is...and if there is no real certainty about what it will be.

All the inquiries and reviews in the world about how to raise the salary cap will amount to absolutely nothing until the amount that is available for distribution is increased - or at least until it is known when it will be increased and by how much.

And that is an issue the NRL simply must take up with the broadcast rights holders.

Finally, the most telling figure in the NRL release is that the total available "spend" this year is $157 million. Of that $55 million goes directly to clubs as grants - effectively to enable clubs to fund their players within the salary cap. A further $20 million goes towards players and clubs - to fund insurance, match travel costs etc.

The rest - well grants to the ARL, dividend to News Limited, junior development, referees, marketing  etc  AND the cost of administration of the NRL.

The Players Association might do well to target "the rest" - and persuading the NRL to pressure the rights holders to bring negotiations on the next agreement forward, so there can be better long term planning, and hopefully  sooner than planned salary cap increase driven by  the certainty the new agreement hopefully will deliver.