It’s not just News Ltd sports writers taking pot shots at the Nine Network. Darwin AFL fans are up in arms at an amazing decision by the local management of the Packer-owned station to give preference to the National Rugby League.

This in a town that thrives on AFL, hosts Wizard Cup games and the occasional home and away AFL game, while the NRL ignores the city except for a visit once every now and then.

Nine in Darwin is now showing NRL on Friday nights live at 7pm, and AFL after that. Is this a sign of the Packer empire punishing the AFL before the current rights run out?

It’s an absurd programming decision, as one Crikey reader in Darwin explains:

The powers to be have thrown their support behind rugby league in a very large way. From now on, rugby league will be shown live on Friday nights ahead of the AFL Friday Night Football and the NRL Footy Show will be shown ahead of the Logie Award winning AFL Footy Show.

The decision, according to Andrew Bruyn, Channel Nine GM, has to do with Darwin being a rugby league town and some garbled reason that the NRL is produced in high definition television. This sounds like what it is – a crock of shit.

There is not one Northern Territory player currently playing on Friday nights or any other part of the weekend inside an NRL team. Yet there are enough Territory-bred AFL players to field their own AFL team.

At a time when Channel Nine is losing the ratings war and when it is going to have to fight tooth and nail to maintain its Australian Rules television rights, this is a really poor management decision.

Suddenly the AFL is second fiddle in the Territory, NSW, Qld and the ACT. What happened to taking the code to regional Australia? The AFL and the Western Bulldogs have spent millions to bring home and way matches to the Northern Territory and the so-called national broadcaster of the game has made this decision.

Bruyn by the way is a former member of the Rugby League Board, and if memory serves me correctly was the Chairman. This decision is an absolute stinker. How will this decision affect revenue?

In any event, I hope this decision costs Bruyn his job. Channel Nine treats its viewers with contempt and has done so for a very long time. Let’s hope that the revitalised Channel Seven will now take the opportunity to have a local news service, which it currently doesn’t have, and that that may be the start of Seven’s growth in the area that will really take off when they regain the rights to broadcast Australian Rules again.

It’s pointless complaining to Bruyn because he is too arrogant to listen. This town has been good to Channel Nine and this is how they repay them.

CRIKEY: In a funny way Nine probably justifies these sorts of decisions by a form of equalisation – its merely placing Darwin on the same footing as Queensland and NSW. League first, AFL second and shown in the deep of night. When you’re running second, every little bit counts.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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