Off the Wall

The media focus on tonight's Origin game is on whether the Blues can prevent the Maroons winning a record breaking five series in a row - and on whether Andrew Johns will be part of the Nine commentary team.

Well we know than answer to the second issue - no, he won't be, and he never was going to be.

The NRL, which appallingly, has no say in the running of the State of Origin series will have its focus on more than just who wins. It will be anxiously watching tomorrow's release of the television ratings for the game.

And given the extraordinary - if somewhat less than favourable and flattering - coverage the game has received since Timana Tahu walked out the game should achieve near record ratings.

David Gallop intends to start negotiations for the next television rights agreement in the coming months - even though it cannot take effect until 2013.

Record ratings tonight would be a major boost to his case - a case which is going to be negotiated with Seven and Ten along with Nine, regardless of whether or not Nine likes it.

The Queensland Rugby League, which is fighting a rear guard action against the establishment of an independent commission to run the game, has produced an independent assessment which reveals that the television rights for the three Origin games ALONE are worth between $11 million and $16 annually.

Ouch! Channel Nine pays rugby league around $40 million a year for this - 78 club matches; 3 origin matches; at least one test match; and TEN high ratings finals matches.

Yet the QRL report values Origin alone at around one third of the total rights fee Nine pays!

The three origin games have become among the highest ratings programmes on television - and not just sports programmes. They are regularly in the top ten programmes on free-to-air television each year.

If tonight's game achieves near record ratings, then the case for a massive increase in the rights paid for free to air coverage will surely be beyond dispute...if it is not so already.

Meanwhile the pressure on Channel Nine is not just over ratings. The decision whether or not to keep Andrew Johns as part of its team is not an easy one.

Nine understands very well that Seven is gearing up for a serious tilt at rugby league's free to air television rights - that is why it signed up Matthew Johns and poured a substantial sum into his Thursday night programme.

The programme has not set the world on fire ratings wise, but it easily out rates Nine's Footy Show, shown two hours later. It is part of a longer term strategy by Seven to get a slice of rugby league coverage.

Today's report by the QRL will surely encourage Seven to at the very least seek the rights for the origin series...but we have to hope it makes a bid for the whole rights, possibly in an alliance with Ten.

There should be no shedding of tears with the predicament this will put Nine in. It has done extraordinarily well out of one of the last deals Kerry Packer helped negotiate before his death.

And there is a delicious irony in all of this. The higher the game rates tonight, then the more Nine will have to be prepared to pay if it wants to keep them post 2012!

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