Off the Wall

Today's story in the SMH that Foxtel's stranglehold on Monday night NRL matches is under threat does not surprise me at all.

Readers will know I am a supporter of Foxtel's coverage of NRL matches. It has excellent previews, reviews and so on...and Foxtel has been rewarded with extraordinary ratings for its coverage.

But the resentment Foxtel is attracting from NRL club officials following the AFL television deal is not without justification.

The facts speak for themselves. The NRL absolutely dominates the top 100 programmes on pay television. The AFL barely rates in the top 100.

Two weeks ago, Foxtel agreed to pay the AFL $650 million over five years for five matches exclusively. It is also allowed to show the free to air matches at the same time as Channel Seven.

Foxtel currently pays the NRL just $210 million over five years for five NRL matches exclusively.

Let there be no doubt about it, without Foxtel the AFL would not have received anywhere near the $1.1 billion it was able to negotiate. The free to air deal is about the same as the current one.

The AFL agreement rises from $780 million over five years to $1.1. billion. Foxtel's contribution involves over $400 million more than it pays under the current agreement.

The NRL clubs are not unreasonably asking this question - how can AFL coverage be worth three times NRL coverage when the NRL games on pay not only dominate AFL games, but dominate the whole pay television audience market?

If we could only get the "phantom" independent commission in place, negotiations could begin.

And when they do Foxtel is going to have to stump up with a whole lot more than $210 million.

On the face of it, nothing short of $650 million will suffice.

The NRL will be in a strong position to make Monday night football the key bargaining chip.

And that is exactly what the NRL clubs decided yesterday.

David Gallop yesterday confirmed that Monday night football is here to stay. As he said - "Monday night this year has provided three of the top ten rating subscription television programmes of all time".

And this year, Monday night football occupies positions one, two, four, five, seven and eight in the top ten pay television ratings. Positions nine and ten are held by Saturday night NRL on Fox!

In a shot across Foxtel's bow, the NRL CEO indicated that Monday night football will be considered for free-to-air programming when negotiations begin.

I think the idea of having the Monday night game available to the total fan base through free to air television will be an absolute winner.

If close to 400,000 regularly watch it on pay television, how many will tune in if it is available to everyone?

Currently the clubs get compensated $40,000 for each Monday night game. Under the next agreement that should be able to be more than doubled.

Monday night football is clearly here to stay - the NRL now needs to get maximum value out of it.

And that means it should be on free to air television from 2013!