Rebecca Wilson produces quite a lively sports gossip column for The Sunday Telegraph and it’s worth reading just to get the occasional insights into how News Ltd management is feeling about the world.

The Wilson family has long been regarded as News Ltd royalty. Rebecca’s dad Bruce Wilson has been London correspondent for almost 30 years and her brother Jim Wilson is now writing for the Herald Sun and presenting AFL on Fox Footy after Seven dumped him from presenting sport in the Melbourne news service.

Rebecca is a favourite of News Ltd CEO John Hartigan, so some of what she writes is interpreted as having come straight from Harto. Take this week’s column as an example. First we were told that Bob Carr’s new pokies tax on clubs is really starting to bite and NRL CEO David Gallop was obligingly quoted as follows: “The impact on the funding of the NRL is enormous, but just as frightening is the potential impact on the grass roots and junior rugby league funding.”

But as Nine is being pushed to lift its annual fee for NRL TV rights from about $25 million to $40 million, this separate Rebecca item painted a much rosier picture: “The NRL is very pleased with its crowd numbers and TV ratings this season. Another reason why 2005 is shaping as the best yet is the NRL website. Last year 400,000 hits were recorded in April. The corresponding results for 2005 came back last week, with a massive 701,000 hits on the site.”

Rebecca, or her NRL informant, doesn’t seem to have cottoned on to the fact that no-one talks hits any more. We think she actually means unique visitors because little ole Crikey had 4.77 million hits in April 2004 and a whopping 9.02 million in April this year. Surely we’re not 13 times more popular than the NRL website? In April 2004 we also had 790,849 page views during 280,000 unique visits and in April 2005 this ballooned to 1.49 million page views and 576,732 unique visit.

Finally, it appears that relations between News Ltd and the Canterbury Bulldogs are in a parlous state after Rebecca Wilson ripped into last year’s premiers over the Coffs Harbour incident. Former News Ltd senior executive Malcolm Noad was perceived to have been shafted internally when he was dispatched to be CEO of the Bulldogs last year and now he’s banned his club from cooperating with TheTelegraph as is explained in this piece from Friday’s paper.

Rupert hates losing money and all this suggests that perhaps the long-awaited turn around in NRL fortunes remains elusive.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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