It has not taken long for the massive superiority of the AFL television rights deal over the new NRL agreement to cause the league considerable grief.

While NRL players are not backing the Bulldogs Willie Mason’s misguided call for a players’ strike, they are behind his call for the NRL to open up its financial books to scrutiny, and increase the salary cap.

The players have no doubt been spurred on by a comparison between the growth of the AFL salary cap, and the “growth” of the NRL salary cap after the signing of new broad deals in both codes.

But let’s start with the salary cap 10years ago — at the end of the Super League war. In 1998, the NRL salary cap was $3.25 million, the AFL salary cap $3.28 million.

This year, the NRL salary cap is $4 million, that of the AFL $6.94 million!

But the gap is going to widen in the first years of the new television agreements. By 2009, the NRL cap will be $4.2 million — a miserable increase of just $200,000 over three years. But the AFL salary cap will rise by around almost $800,000 in the same period — and by 2009 will be close to double the NRL cap.

These figures put into stark reality that while the new NRL television deal is an improvement on the last one (and it would need to be) the AFL deal is worth something like $25 million to $30 million a year more.

But there is another factor limiting the ability of the NRL to lift its salary cap to anywhere near the AFL. The AFL can plough all its profits back into the game — and give its clubs as much a share as it likes.

But, as NRL CEO David Gallop revealed in an interview with Phil Gould in yesterday’s Sun Herald, a massive $16 million flows from the NRL each year to its two shareholders, News Limited and the Australian Rugby League.

News Limited is entitled to its $8 million, but what the players and clubs need to ask is what the ARL does with its $8 million, given that Gallop revealed the NRL picks up most of its expenses, such as representative player payments and development grants.

The facts are simple. The AFL not only has a significantly superior television rights deal, it has a more efficient and streamlined administration — and a greater revenue stream!

Is it any wonder that Phil Gould concluded his look over the NRL finances with the terse comment:  “I’ve looked at the figures and unless you’re hiding a secret stash, you’ve got no money left!”

And, drip by drip, players, the club, and fans are starting to know why!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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