Off the Wall

Forget today's announcement of minor increases in payments from the NRL to the clubs - the big news of the day is that David Gallop intends to bring forward the start of negotiations over television rights for the NRL premiership, origin and test matches.

I am not alone on this one, but I have been calling for this to happen for at least the last nine months.

Negotiations will start as soon as the Federal Government completes its review of the anti-siphoning provisions, due any time now.

By bringing forward negotiations David Gallop should be able to provide the 16 NRL clubs with the certainty and stability they need. The increased revenues the NRL must surely get in the next agreement will help secure the game's long term future - and allow the clubs plan for that future with greater certainty.

The current agreement with Nine and Fox Sports is reportedly worth just over $110 million a year. The current AFL deal with Seven/Tex/Fox is reportedly worth over $150 million a year.

In the five year life span of these agreements, that means the AFL is getting over $250 million more than the NRL. Is it any wonder they can drop obscene sums into the bank accounts of Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau?

The AFL is pitching for $1 billion from its next rights agreement. In the prevailing environment it will need more than good luck and Andrew Demetriou's negotiating skills to do so. The AFL ratings in Sydney are embarrassing, and very average in South East Queensland - does anyone seriously believe a couple of rugby league converts with zero AFL experience will make a massive difference?

But whatever the AFL gets - and it will also negotiate its rights this year to start in 2012 - the NRL should reasonably expect to get close to the same...though starting off a lower base is not a help!

Even if the NRL gets $800 million over five years, that is an extra $60 million a year.

The one hurdle we have is that Nine has first and last rights to bid. Another concession to the late Kerry Packer for basically ensuring the NRL got a significantly inferior deal because he forced Seven and Ten to pay absolutely top dollar for the AFL rights.

The NRL, and rugby league generally, owe Nine three fifths of bugger all when it comes to the value of television rights.

Full marks to David Gallop for trying to bring some certainty into the game's future funding.

The negotiations won't be easy - but the free to air audience is comparable with that of the AFL, and when it comes to pay television we leave them in the shade.

Rugby league deserves a better deal...even if it will be a painstaking wait until it actually turns into more dollars in the NRL bank account!

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