The Roaring 2020s: Australian league’s dizzying heights will make its fall more painful

By STEVE MASCORD

IN TIMES like these, sometimes it pays to be, well, smalltime.

For instance, how has my income been hit by the Covid-19 crisis? Well, actually I was at home on my couch with the computer in my lap and living on the smell of an oily rag before all this started – so not much has changed. Now I have almost nothing to spend money on so, relatively speaking, I am actually better off. You’ve all joined me in my life.

Likewise, the relative fortunes of rugby league in Australia and England.

No-one seems to have spelt this out yet so I will: the NRL’s broadcasters refused to pay it with no matches being staged and the Rugby Football League’s broadcaster – Sky – DID pay it! They gave the sport money for something the sport wasn’t providing.

That’s amazing when you think about it at first; until you think a little longer. In Australia you’ve got the big end of town, the most Alpha of Alpha males, fighting over billions of dollars and trying to save giant media companies from ruin – and their own million dollar reputations.

In England, you have a regional sport with a folksy following that’s just trying to do the right thing. That’s not to say the the broadcaster doesn’t have any ulterior motives in paying up – their contract is up soon, too..I tried to get a statement from Sky about their decision to pay the sport’s rights instalment and they said they had none to make.

If only Channel Nine CEO Hugh Marks had demurred similarly.

In the UK, the wages coverage by the government would be quite sufficient for many players, officials and other workers who are earning only a modest amount anyway. When you’re writing stories as an English rugby league writer for £20 a pop, you’re going to miss that £20 but then again, you can’t go to the pub and spend it now anyway.

Many people working around the British game do it for free, for the love of it. Perhaps the sport only provides 1250-1500 full-time jobs all up.

How many in Australia? Eight thousand, 10,000? And many of them – headed by the NRL executive, apparently, are on huge wages of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Everyone has had their say on Channel Nine’s attack on the NRL administration. We now have one major newspaper in Sydney owned by one of the NRL’s rights holders and another owned by the other.

But Nine is clearly trying to get out of paying the full freight for the content that is about to be provided for it and that’s the kind of thing that often ends up in court. The NRL can only do what it can to stage the matches and leave things in the hands of the lawyers.

All of this is not to say that the British game won’t be forced to make some tough decisions. We already have Gary Hetherington, the CEO of Leeds, saying players should be prepared to play three times a week and plenty of people having a crack back at him.

It’s a long way to the top – and it’s a long way down. British rugby league doesn’t have quiet so far to fall.

The way things are looking, that means it’s going to experience a lot less pain than the Flash Harrys Down Under.


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