Broadcasters – the new rule makers for the NRL

Turns out beer isn’t just for summer. I should have known this since the Poms drink beer even though it’s like winter all year round in their half of the world.

During summer, I discovered I quite enjoyed the dark ales – the traditional wintery brews – and want to get some more under my belt. I’ve done a little bit of research, and have come up with a “short” list of 26 beers I’d like to try, and will whittle this down to 13 over the coming weeks.

Each week, I’ll try to give you a heads up on what’s coming up next so you can enjoy a couple with me and tell me your thoughts. All of that kicks off with the official start of winter on the first weekend in June.

Until then, I’ve decided to reprise the Sunday Sesh sans beer, just to flex my writing muscles a little, and because there’s so much to talk about.

This week, it’s footy.

I wasn’t really going to take too much interest in it this year to be honest. The Origin is the only series that still really gets me excited, but I’ve been hearing things around the ridges and reading a few things that have taken my interest. Plus, I’m in a tipping comp so I really should take some sort of notice in order to have a chance at winning at least some of the pot.

So this weekend I was reading the Saturday paper (the courier mail) and a little article, tucked away beside an ad and under a match preview, caught my eye.

Apparently, the TV rights renewal for the NRL is coming up for renewal, and Channel Nine has launched it’s new bid, along with Fox Sports. Now, I don’t get pay TV, and I’m happy(ish) with the number of games I get to watch over a weekend. After all, I can’t possibly find time to watch all of them, and not all of them would interest me. If there are games I’d want to watch but miss out on because they’re not on free-to-air, I just suck it up and move on.

This article made me take pause though. Because apart from wanting to dictate on what nights are best for their bottom line, they also want to make subtle changes to the game in order to increase their advertising revenue.

This (from the Courier Mail) is (probably only part of) what they’re proposing:

  • Increase games from 90 to 95 minutes
  • Extend half-time from 12 to 14 minutes
  • 30-second breaks for stoppages on scrums and line drop-outs, and between try conversions and restarts

On the surface, this doesn’t look like much. The stoppages occur anyway, and the extent of the time is at the referees’ discretion. Often, one team wants to keep the game moving, and the other wants to slow it down. Also, an extra 2 minutes at half-time could be good for coaches – we often try to squeeze as much out of the time we have in the sheds so I can’t imagine there would be too much of an uproar.

The problem, however, lies in who is asking for these changes. The broadcaster should not be the one dictating these types of changes to the group that provides the entertainment. Changes to the game, even small ones, should always be about the game itself. They should come from the players and the people who run the game, for the betterment of the game, rather than the maximising of revenue.

I know, I know. Sport is supposedly all about the dollar now, and I accept that to some extent.

My problem lies in the fact that if we allow a broadcaster to dictate how a game can change, where do we stop? Do we introduce stoppages for substitutions? Or how about we allow whole forward-lines and back-lines to be substituted at the same time, depending on whether a team is attacking or defending?

And who times these stoppages? Do the ref’s on ground get a call from another official that it’s okay to blow time on? And how do these stoppages in play affect the overall time in the game? Does the clock get stopped for these breaks or does the 30-seconds just tick down until the ref blows the whistle to say the ad break’s over?

My biggest problem, however, is that the game isn’t just about the fans who love it or the advertisers who support (and make money off) it. It’s about the players who play it. Most of them will tell you that they want a free-flowing game, that can ebb and flow on its own merits, not at the will of advertisers or officials.
There are subtle nuances of the game that I fear are being lost. I love yelling at the TV for players to get up and stop trying to slow the play down, or at the ref for letting them get away with it, or at my team for not doing enough to lay around on opposition players trying to make fast play-the-balls.
I get cranky with the opposition team when they’re only 1 or 2 points ahead, kicking the ball out, or taking ages to get back for a restart. And don’t get me started on the 10-metre rule (I swear the refs have no idea how far 10 metres really is).
All of that is at the discretion of the players and the refs during the game.

The thing that rugby league does so well that other codes could learn from is stressing the grass roots – the fans and the amateur players. If we start making it about advertisers and broadcasters, that grass roots philosophy starts to take a back seat.
Besides, isn’t it enough that we have to listen to Ray Warren and crew rabbit on about the betting odds at every opportunity? Not to mention cross-promoting The Voice and other shows I doubt they’d take any interest in. But that’s another post altogether.

What do you think? Are Channel Nine’s proposed changes good for the game? Should “partners” to the NRL be allowed to dictate them? And what changes, if any, would you want to see if you had a say?

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