Off the Wall

The next nine or ten days will be the most important in the recent history of the greatest game of all.

The third and deciding State of Origin match on Wednesday week should be the highest rating television game of all time.

The coverage between now and then will be dominant......regardless of Wimbledon and whatever the other codes can serve up.

During the same period "negotiations" over the television rights for the game post 2012 will continue.

And that just makes the next week or so even more critical.

Reports at the weekend indicate the initial offer from Nine and Fox fell well short of what the ARLC expected.

That won't surprise readers of this column....and it certainly won't surprise the analysts who watch closely the financial viability of the television industry.

Times are tough in free to air television land.

The pay sector - Fox - is doing better but the hundreds of millions tipped into the bid to secure the AFL rights has not produced the lift in subscriptions in the AFL states that was expected.

That is bad news for Fox - and it is bad news for the ARLC.

Fox needed to add about 100,000 subscriptions to pay for the $530 million it has shelled out to secure the AFL rights - yet subscription numbers are reportedly "stagnant".

The ARLC faces a much tougher task than the AFL did. It lifted its revenue for the five year period starting this year by around $250-$300 million to get it over the $1 billion. To do the same, the ARLC needs to get a $450-$500 million lift.

Possible? Yes - but a real challenge.

The third and deciding Origin game will be an excellent marketing tool.

It will need to be!

And it will be if a couple of the issues that remain unresolved are fixed before Wednesday week - so the whole focus can be on the quality product that Origin is.

And surely the biggest issue remains the standard of refereeing.

Poor refereeing decisions - and poor video refereeing decisions - marred Origins One and Two.

And they marred a couple of games (at least) over the weekend, just as they do every weekend.

I assume the referees for the Origin decider will be Tony Archer and Ben Cummins - the former picks himself, the latter is the best of the rest.

Some will argue that the performance of the referees is irrelevant when it comes to what the game is "worth".

Not if we have days and days of headlines after the Origin decider about how bad decisions by the referees and video referees impacted on the outcome!

The television companies have numerous factors to weigh up when they decide whether to bid and what to bid.

A game that does not have its act together when it comes to its referees and video referees - even in the most important games - will surely have its value marked down.

Our game is worth more than a billion - and it is certainly worth no less than the AFL.

But in the current environment we are only going to get it if the games strengths are absolutely maximised.....and maximised in the vital weeks ahead.

Is it just possible that, for at least a few weeks, the ARLC's highly paid referees and video referees can be a help and not a hindrance?