The AFL has thrown down the gauntlet to other codes – notably rugby league – with its decision to pour $100 million into development programs in NSW and Queensland over the next five years.
Thanks to its new television deal that begins next year, the AFL is going to be much more cashed up than the National Rugby League. The simple truth is that the Seven and Ten deal with the AFL is significantly superior than the Nine deal with the NRL that also cuts in next year.
Rugby league is still paying a heavy price for the Super League division a decade ago. When the current television deal was struck, rugby league was in a poor bargaining position and, while the 2007 agreement is an improvement, the rugby league television rights battle was a one-horse race.
But the AFL deal saw Nine set the cross bar very high, before Seven and Ten matched it. As a result, the AFL is now in a position to put serious dollars into development in New South Wales (mainly Sydney’s west) and Queensland (mainly South East Queensland).
It will spend over $100 million over the next five years on development in the rugby league states. And it is increasing the number of AFL premiership matches played in both states.
Rugby league will have a battle on its hands, especially in junior football. And there may even be a greater challenge – from soccer.
If they are serious about meeting the challenges, rugby league’s administrators will need to put an end to the nonsense of a divided administration. The AFL runs the game lock, stock and barrel. The NRL only runs the premiership, while the ARL runs Origin, international matches, and junior football.
The duplication of administration is archaic. It is a hangover from the Super League war, that serves only the interests of the officials who hang on to jobs when their use-by date has long passed.
The AFL challenge to rugby league is a serious one. Even before yesterday’s announcement of a massive funding boost, the game has been making inroads in schools and juniors by a superior marketing campaign.
I am sure rugby league will fight back – but it needs to get its act together in a hurry if it is going to do so effectively.