Off the Wall

I like the confidence Phil Rothfield shows in today's Telegraph - he is already splitting up the benefits of the next television rights agreement even though formal negotiations have not even begun!

He begins with the not unreasonable assumption that the five year deal will be worth $1 billion - just over $400 million more than the current agreement. It might get to the $1.1 million the AFL negotiated...in fact it ought to get even more!

But I have a few problems with his spending recommendations.

He wants to lift the annual grant to clubs from $3.65 million to $7.5 million.

If that happened it would cost the NRL close to $65 million a year, or around $320 million over the five year cycle!

Given that most of the NRL grant goes to meeting payments under the salary cap to players, it would see a massive hike in player contract payments. It would allow the number of first grade players in each club to rise from around 25 to 30.

But the question needs to be asked - should up to three quarters of the extra income go to first grade players?

Not in my view.

One of the biggest challenges facing the game today is rebuilding club, team and player numbers at the junior level. That requires funding to match the serious dollars the AFL, and rugby union and soccer are putting into junior sport in outer suburban areas, and the regions.

Players deserve an increase, but do they deserve the lion's share of the extra funding?

The NRL will also need to seriously look at putting some funding aside to counter what I see as the other big challenge the game faces - the impact of the inevitable controls the federal government will seek to impose over poker machines.

Even though the contribution from poker machines to NRL and junior club funding has decreased, it remains an important component for many clubs.

If the federal government, under pressure from Independent and Green MP's, puts controls over poker machine spending by players in licensed venues, then there will be an immediate and direct hit to the bottom line of more than half the NRL clubs, and hundreds of second tier and junior clubs rights across New South Wales and Queensland.

I would like to see half the additional revenue set aside for junior development programmes, and for insulating the game from what I see as the threat to revenue that Senator Xenophen and Mr Andrew Wilkie MP are determined to impose.

Players need some increase - but if they get the bulk of what is on offer we really will be leaving the game at the grass roots more exposed than ever.

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