The AFL this week announced a massive $2.5b deal that will usurp the total package the NRL will be able to get once they complete pay tv, digital and New Zealand rights by somewhere in the vicinity of $500m-$1b. Not only that, Fox Sports boss Rupert Murdoch went further to say that the AFL was considered the jewel in the crown of their live sports rights and there was plenty of talk coming out of the AFL about further spreading the game into rugby league heartland of NSW and Queensland. This comes a week after the NRL failed to confirm expansion with the new television deal.
Dave Smith and his mates at NRL HQ have missed the boat here. Not only has AFL got an attitude where they want to make a raid on AFL heartland, they now have more of a war chest to arm themselves with in order to make headway.
It makes absolutely no sense that the NRL wouldn’t shore up the Brisbane market by confirming expansion in the city in time for the start of the new deal in 2018. It also missed a golden opportunity to start grabbing some ground back by putting an NRL franchise in Perth, not to mention beginning plans to get to untapped markets like Central Queensland and Wellington.
Fans of the NRL remain frustrated about the change in rules, refereeing performance and the inequalities around roster expenditure. The NRL is trying to do the right thing around player safety but that comes at the cost of losing some traditional fans who have become disillusioned by a sanitised on-field product. What they really need to do is grow the game in new markets to ensure the sport continues to grow overall. There has been very little communication from the NRL brass about plans for the future, which only adds to the fan frustration.
What is clear is that while the AFL is clearly ahead in the head-to-head battle at the moment, with the attitude of both organisations and the gains the AFL has made in this deal, that gap will only grow by the time both negotiate the next television deal five plus years down the road.