Off the Wall

There is nothing wrong with being ambitious, even adventurous, when it comes to what the NRL should be seeking from the next television rights deal.

The AFL has secured $1.2 billion, which, as I have stressed before, has largely been achieved by a massive hike in the deal with pay television provider, Foxtel.

The contribution by the free to air provider, the Seven Network, is not much greater than under the current agreement - but the deal with Telstra lifted the AFL figure by a billion or so.

This week there was comment that the NRL might dump pay television and put all nine games on free to air.

This is completely fanciful, for a couple of reasons.

Anyone who knows anything about the financial state of the free to air television sector today will confirm that things are tough...and they are much tougher than when Nine secured the current deal four years ago.

To suggest that Nine, or the cash strapped Ten Network, could fork out over $1 billion to show eight NRL matches on free to air television really is pie in the sky stuff.

And, in any event, Foxtel would be committing financial, and subscriber, suicide, if it gave up on rugby league, which delivers something like 70 of its top 100 viewing numbers each year.

Recently the Reds v Crusaders rugby final achieved massive ratings for Fox - but what would the NRL grand final achieve if it was shown on Fox as well as on Nine?

The best way of delivering anything over $1 billion is for there to be a "mix" of free to air and pay agreements.

The NRL should be ambitious and drive a hard bargain - which it assuredly did not do last time - and that means nothing less than what the AFL achieved should be acceptable.

But to get the figure to $1.4 billion requires a quantum leap from the current agreement - much more than double it.

When the new Independent Commission is given the full state of the finances of the 16 NRL clubs today it will realise the enormity of the task it has been given - and the simple truth that the financial survival of any number of clubs is dependent on a very good deal post 2012 will surely make the IC deliver at least what the AFL got.

There are interesting and challenging times ahead!

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