I’m not sure whether the news that Eddie
McGuire’s first meeting after his appointment as CEO of the Nine Network was
with the CEO of the National Rugby League is good news or bad news for the
legion of long suffering rugby league viewers fed up with Nine’s rugby league
coverage (or lack of it).

The Collingwood president has at least
got his priorities right in his new role. Rugby league remains the leading ratings drawcard on the Nine Network in
Sydney and Brisbane – and with Nine’s coverage of the AFL to finish at the end
of the 2006 season, it will become even more critical to Nine’s success.

Eddie has been the host of Nine’s AFL Footy Show and it is
to be hoped he has had a good look at the rugby league equivalent. The program’s
relevance to rugby league has been in decline for years – just like its ratings.

With sports betting on NRL matches on the
rise, and footy tipping competitions more popular than ever, Nine needs to
produce a program that seriously previews the weekend’s matches. And the NRL should be encouraging that
given the news out of Victoria that major sporting codes may soon get the share of revenue from
sports betting that they have long been denied.

The Sunday Footy Show does preview the
Sunday matches more seriously, but that is not much help to fans who are in
tipping competitions etc given that four of the weekend’s games are played on
Friday and Saturday nights.

But it should not just be about meeting the
needs of gamblers – far from it. The NRL needs to encourage Nine to do more to
educate new fans on the rules of the game, on the profiles of players and so
on.

If Eddie wants some tips on previews he
could do a lot worse than look at the Fox Sports coverage of the NRL, and its
mid-week round ups and previews in particular. It leaves Nine’s coverage in the
shade.

Apparently Eddie is being “lobbied” by
various teams hoping he will support them (as well as Collingwood, of course). But don’t be surprised if he looks no
further than the Sydney Roosters. When I last checked, one of the Directors of
the Sydney Roosters Rugby League Football Club was one James B Packer.

Eddie McGuire has always given me the very
strong impression he knows what side his bread is buttered on. That being so,
his arrival at Nine might be very good for rugby league.

Peter Fray

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