Off the Wall

It did not take long for the "empire to strike back" after yesterday's very strategic - and surely self serving - announcement in News Limited papers that News would require the Independent Commission to be established by April 30, as News intended to exit its 50 per cent ownership of the NRL, on that date.

Today we read that one of the conditions News imposed on exiting the ownership is that the $8 million a year News takes by way of dividend is to be used to "develop the game in Melbourne" - which in essence means the survival of the Storm!

This will apparently be in place for five years.

And how do we know that? The ARL CEO let the cat out of the bag by detailing the agreement, and telling the other 15 NRL clubs they won't be getting a higher payout when News goes - thanks to the Storm provision!

This will inevitably open up yet again the debate about the place of the Storm in the premiership.

Not only will the Storm be getting the annual handout, under the salary cap provisions, of something over $4 million a year it will be effectively getting the lion's share of another EIGHT million dollars annually!

Is it any wonder that a number of NRL club officials would be happy if the Storm departed the scene?

I don't share that view - however, if the massive financial support from the game for the Storm is to continue, then it must be conditional on a couple of factors.

One of the reasons for the existence - and the propping up - of the Storm is the need to secure a television audience in Melbourne to boost the market share that is a key factor when the rights are negotiated.

How can that happen when the current rights holder - Channel Nine - does not show any Storm, or other, games live, or even at a civilised hour?

A condition of the next rights deal must be live free to air coverage for Storm games in Melbourne.

If that is not guaranteed, then the game is effectively pouring millions down the drain...and will surely come under massive pressure from clubs to stop doing so.

The Storm need to add long term value to the game if they are to be propped up in a way no other club will ever be!

That means television exposure in Melbourne is an absolute must...and that means the rights will need to be shared by two channels at the very least.

The deadline for the establishment of the commission is good news - the very costly condition attached to it is not!

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