2014 NRL Draw: Canberra Raiders again forgotten … and they are not alone!

The NRL announced the draw for the 2104 season (first 20 rounds) yesterday and, in a scene reminiscent of “Groundhog Day”, the Canberra Raiders are again a forgotten team by the NRL and, most particularly, Channel 9. I have, forgive the accountant in me, done a statistical analysis of the winners and losers out of the draw when it comes to coverage of the clubs in a free manner which renders both some surprising and unsurprising results as follows:

Team FTA Games FTA Percentage 2013 Position
Rabbitohs 8 44.4% 2nd
Roosters 10 55.6% 1st
Bulldogs 9 50% 6th
Broncos 13 72.2% 12th
Panthers 3 16.7% 10th
Knights 5 27.8% 7th
Sea Eagles 11 61.1% 4th
Storm 4 22.2% 3rd
Cowboys 6 33.3% 8th
Raiders 3 16.7% 13th
Dragons 6 33.3% 14th
Tigers 11 61.1% 15th
Eels 7 38.9% 16th
Warriors 1 5.56% 11th
Sharks 5 27.8% 5th
Titans 5 27.8% 9th

Let’s get the principal cause of my angst out of the way first: if I did not have Foxtel (which I concede I do) I would not be able to watch the Canberra Raiders play on television (via the host broadcaster Channel 9) until round 10 when they face the Melbourne Storm. In total I would not be able to watch my team play some 15 times because Channel 9 deigns to show my club some 3 times in total through the first 20 rounds of the season. I would like to say that I am surprised by this but as a long time Raiders fan, frankly, I am not. My surprise is even less so this year given the place on which Raiders ended up on the table last season (13th).

Therein lies the principal rub for me out of the draw set by Channel 9 (I should say the NRL here but we all know who actually runs the game): the draw for the Free to Air games for the first 20 rounds of the season does nothing to reward the best performing teams (in some cases) and everything to reward mediocrity (in some cases). Additionally, it does nothing to seek to foster the game in developing markets whilst doing everything to solidify the game in markets the NRL already dominates.

There is a simple comparison here that quite poignantly supports my point: the difference in the schedules of the Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm. The Broncos, coming off a season where they finished 12th and in a season where they are unlikely to go higher than that despite raiding the stocks of other teams, will be seen on Channel 9 13 times in the first 20 rounds (out of 18 games given byes). Most astonishingly the Broncos will play each of their first 10 games on Friday night in front of the Channel 9 TV audience. I bet their sponsors are very happy right now. Contrast this with the Melbourne Storm, who by the way have appeared in every finals series since 2003 save for the year they were stripped of their points and finished 3rd last year, who will be seen by their fans having free to air television a paltry 4 times in the first 20 rounds and, again astonishingly, only for the first time in Round 10 against the Raiders.

Can anyone explain the sense in Channel 9 crafting a draw that presents a struggling team, which the Broncos are, for fans to watch EVERY week in the first 10 rounds whilst not showing a team that includes names like C Smith, Slater and Cronk which again presents as a serious title contender? That is ignoring that one team is based in a developing market the NRL should be supporting (Melbourne) and the other is based in a static established market (Brisbane).

To add to the scratching of one’s head is this conundrum: How do the West Tigers, most pundit’s pick for the wooden spoon in 2014 and placed 15th last season, land over 60% of their games on free to air television when the only finalist from last season to the rewarded similarly are the Manly Sea Eagles? That is right: the favourite for the wooden spoon for 2014 will be shown on Channel 9 more than the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Storm, Sharks, Bulldogs, Knights and Cowboys. It makes little sense does it, either by an analysis of results nor of the importance of the geographical area in which the Tigers sit to the game.

Is it too simplistic to suggest that Channel 9 have, again, simply picked their favourite teams for television spots and ignored what is best for developing the game? Surely, if they were serious about developing the game in key competitive markets (which Brisbane and Sydney are, frankly not) then games such as the Storm v Knights game slated for Monday night in Round 3 have to be shown on Channel 9 rather than the Tigers v Rabbitohs that has taken precedence.

I am lucky in a sense that I have Foxtel and I will get to watch the only game of each weekend that I watch (the Raiders game) every week. I do wonder though how many fans of the game from clubs such as the Warriors, Sharks, Cowboys and Titans (one town teams in developing markets) might be lost to the game because they can barely see their team play on free to air TV? I get that Channel 9 have paid the GDP of a medium size country for the rights to broadcast the game but at what point does the role that Channel 9 plays in the game become more about the stewardship of the game and not as a profit centre? I am not sure of the answer to this but answer might need to be found sooner rather than later if overall crowd and viewing numbers start to wane.

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