If this deal does go through, it will be enormously significant. Let me count the ways.
- Elite rugby in Australia has the fuel it needs to keep going. I repeat: earlier in the year, when the house fell in, it looked for a short time like there was going to be little left but smoking ruins. Two things have caused the rugby resurrection. Firstly, the enduring passion of the rugby mob to watch the game. Secondly, TV’s smart money being placed upon that passion to not only endure but grow. If the deal goes through, it is a vote of confidence in the game just when it needed it most. A vote of no confidence from the big TV networks would be game over.
- It might allow Channel Nine – whose television arm I also work for on Sunday mornings, thanks for caring – to sprinkle some of the TV magic dust it has in the basement, over a game that desperately needs some. Quite seriously, Channel Nine has long led the field in presenting sport in a manner that makes the mob watch – although Channel Seven has also done great things in recent years – and its record of growing the popularity of sports in its stable is something to draw comfort from in these grim times.
- In terms of rugby’s long-term health in Australia, for its flame to grow brighter and higher, the oxygen of free-to-air television is desperately needed. The fact this deal sees exactly that is crucial. You will have seen a resuscitation in recent times in the popularity of the Shute Shield. This is in no small part due to its restoration to free-to-air television, after being picked up by Channel Seven. Almost from the moment that started, crowds started to return. In a perfect world, we will see the same for big-time rugby on Channel Nine.
- If the deal goes through, it hurts Fox Sports and makes its rugby league product more valuable than ever to the business. Its support of rugby league in winter, thus, will no longer be fractured and we can expect it to be its be-all and end-all.
Now, if Nine gets rugby’s broadcast rights, how does it grow the game to get a return on its investment?
I thought you’d never ask!
The first thing is for its coverage to return us to having knowledge of who the players are. Right now, most people tune in to rugby to watch teams rather than players. I’ll count to 10 and you name five or six Wallabies . . .
Back in the day, most rugby supporters knew most of the team and who was in what position with the Wallabies. They could even name the team of their home state or territory. You could reel off the forward pack and the back line without blinking.
These days it seems like there are so many changes every week, we hardly get to know who’s who, and there are precious few regularly showing up in the media in any case for us to get a feel of. Correct me if I am wrong, but is David Pocock the most recent Wallaby to be widely known and loved by the public at large? In this new age of rugby, if it is to go forward and prosper, give us back the characters, give us back the fun and, yes, give us back more victories.
Ultimately, that will be the final arbiter of how rugby will fare.
But if the deal goes through and it shows up on Channel Nine, it is off to a good start!
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