Off the Wall

The devil will be in the implementation, but the principles outlined in the anti-siphoning policy yesterday seem to benefit the NRL, and rugby league fans.

But the AFL is also a beneficiary as it will be able to reach more lucrative deals with pay television for coverage of up to five AFL matches each weekend.

The NRL will have the right to negotiate directly with pay television, or free to air, for five matches each weekend. That is arguably the most significant and beneficial change for the NRL.

The preservation of three high quality games for "live" free to air coverage was to be expected.

The test will be in the implementation - the policy will be a failure if Nine, or any other broadcaster, is allowed to delay the broadcast of the Sunday match of the day by an hour (or an hour and a quarter) as it has been doing for years.

The reality is that NRL fans in Sydney and Brisbane only get one match live on free to air television each weekend - AFL fans in the AFL states (and that is the only valid comparison) get three or four!

The anti siphoning laws, and the "use it or lose it" provision, have been undermined by free to air channels. The promise by the federal government to tighten the provisions is welcome - but again the devil will be in the actual implementation.

The NRL should be well positioned to maximise the huge pay television viewing audience advantage it has over the AFL. One problem - by the time the NRL is "allowed" (as part of the current agreement with Nine) to start negotiating the post-2012 deal for free to air and pay coverage the AFL will have concluded to negotiations for its post-2011 coverage!

The key to what rugby league gets for its broadcast rights is only partly dependent on the anti-siphoning provisions. It is more dependent on competition for free to air rights.

If we have, again, what is effectively a one horse race, then we will not get what we deserve (and what the 16 clubs need). It is as simple as that.

The actual details of the NRL and AFL provisions of the anti-siphoning law changes announced yesterday remain the subject of negotiation with the federal government in the coming weeks.

The failure to put in place an independent commission to run the NRL before those negotiations take place is a blight on the game.

Surely the best body to negotiate with government the actual details of provisions that will have long term implications for the game, is the body that will be running the game over the long term?

The delays caused by the ARL, and especially by the QRL, have been wholly unhelpful.

This is a critical period for rugby league, and for the NRL premiership clubs. It is vital that the independent commission take control of negotiations now!