Channel 9 Abandons League At Time of Need


Any pretence that Channel 9 has even given a flying fuck about rugby league had been thrown out the window, with the TV channel allegedly demanding its broadcast contract with the NRL be torn up in response to the proposed machinations that would deliver a season in the second half of 2020. If true it’s a decision driven by short-term considerations and no long-term vision on behalf of the company.

Sidebar: This has been reported by Fox, which gives me a bit of pause. It’s hard to know whether it will be reported by anyone else though, because of the relationship between Nine as owner of the fairfax papers. Which leaves like…us? to report on it.

I’m sure that that the television station has real and difficult financing problems right now. The idea of a sub-optimal NRL season occurring through the second half of the year is hardly appealing for anyone, let alone the logistical difficulties it will force on the station as it tries to manage presenting the Twenty20 World Cup as well as a truncated rugby league season. I’ve no doubt they would prefer footy were being played right now. We all would. Circumstances are not ideal, but we pull together and we push through.

The logistical issues and otherwise are problems, but frankly they are manageable. The idea that there would be “too much sport” for them to cover is laughable. It would mean more production money as they have to be prepared to have HD cameras at even more locations than they intended, but it would also likely mean more ratings, and coming into a period where people (and therefore advertisers) will be spending again. It would place them at the forefront of TV channels coming out of a crisis and would put it in a strong place to build success in the long-term by giving them a product and a brand that literally millions of people love. Not many television shows have a guaranteed million person market that you can sell to advertisers.

The suggestion that the contract be torn up seems more a recognition that 9 wants to get out of league in the long-term and is willing to use this crisis as a mechanism to get out of it. I’m seen some shit things recently, and this is right up there. A time of crisis for the league, and the long-term broadcaster’s response is to run out quicker than a dead-beat dad? All class.

The response of the NRL should be straightforward. It should tell Channel 9 to get fucked. Then it should make sure that Channel 9 pays every dollar of this deal that the NRL is entitled to. Then it should investigate where it can absolve Channel 9 from its role in rugby league in the long term. This may be harder, because Channel 7 has AFL, Channel 10 doesn’t have any money, and everyone needs a Free-To-Air partner (right Rugby Union?). It should also consider how it can bolster its digital offering, and maybe talk to Netflix about now being an opportune time to get into live streaming.

I recognise the naivete of expecting a TV company to care about the league. But even from a business perspective this makes no sense. Channel 9 has no football. It has no cricket. It just has Married At First Sight, and that’s about it. Building your brand and company around the hope that people will continue watching a particular brand of reality TV is as short-sighted as its saddening.

Channel 9 appears to be attempting brinkmanship, exploiting a bad situation to suit its own agenda. It may make ‘good business sense’, but as I’m sure a lot of people are discovering lately, ‘good business sense’ is usually short term focused, with little interest in long-term outcomes, let alone the community that exists around it.

Make no mistake about it. At its time of crisis for rugby league Channel 9 was weighed, measured, and have absolutely have been found wanting.

This should never be forgotten.

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