Off the Wall

There is both challenge and opportunity for the NRL arising from the AFL's five year deal with the Seven Network/Foxtel/Telstra that has been signed and sealed.

The cash component is around $1.12 billion - up from around $750 million the current agreement provides.

The "opportunity" for the NRL must surely be to get an agreement that has a cash component of at least $1 billion.

As the "Australian" reports today - and as I have pointed out in this column many times - the NRL is now doing significantly better than the AFL where it counts...in television viewing numbers.

The NRL has had NINE of the top TEN shows on pay television so far this year! Two of the NRL matches were the most watched programmes in the history of pay television in Australia.

Foxtel has paid around $530 million for the rights to nine AFL matches live, and five on its own. That is all about boosting subscriptions in Victoria, SA and WA.

Surely, surely, the NRL rights are worth more than that?

But the NRL might not get that - it will need to drive a very hard bargain to do so. The AFL has given Foxtel the right to simulcast four games with the free to air broadcaster, Seven.

The NRL can, at best, offer eight games - and it will need Nine's agreement to do that!

The other worry is that Foxtel may believe its rugby league subscriber base in New South Wales and Queensland is close to what it can achieve.

David Gallop and the independent commission will have to take a tough line with Foxtel.

But it is the free to air rights that worry me. Nine short changed rugby league last time - and I fear it may be about to do so again.

Nine forced Seven to pay more for the AFL rights this week - just as it did five years ago.

The 'competitive tension' that helped the AFL get a very good deal might not be there when it comes to the NRL negotiations. If so, we might get "done" yet again!

One hopes not...and again David Gallop will need to keep Ten, and maybe Seven, at the table.

In summary, the AFL has done well, but, if most analysts I have read today are right, it may have got significantly more than its rights are worth.

That is a real challenge for the NRL.

It is going to need everything running its way to get to $1.1 billion - even though the viewing audience numbers justify it.

And one thing it needs to do is get the independent commission is place without delay!

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