The push for the return to a daytime NRL grand final is gathering momentum, with opponents using increasingly desperate arguments to defend the unpopular Sunday night grand final concept.
The extent of opposition to a night time grand final, as measured by a newspaper poll of fans, shocked administrators, and put the NRL on the back foot. The poll showed 75% of fans wanted a return to a Sunday afternoon grand final — and the poll was largely taken in New South Wales. In Queensland and Victoria opposition to the night grand final would be even stronger.
But the award for the nonsense statement of the year goes to the CEO of the Parramatta Eels, Denis Fitzgerald, who claimed that a return to a day grand final could cause a rise in skin cancer and sunburn. How desperate can they get?
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If he is right, then surely he will lead a push for Test match cricket to be played at night, and the Melbourne Cup to be run at Flemington after dark. And perhaps Bondi beach should be closed during daylight hours.
But what Fitzgerald’s comments confirm is that there is only one argument supporting the night time grand final — that Channel Nine insists upon it.
The NRL CEO, David Gallop, has promised to consider the issue but concedes that broadcast arrangements are a difficulty.
Whether the new Channel Nine owners will be easier to budge than the Packer regime is questionable. There is no doubt the night grand final is in a higher rating time, but the day grand final telecast was a genuine event — starting at around 10am and running right through to the grand final presentation.
Now it is disjointed rabble, with the news jammed in while the pre-match entertainment is under way. And even though the starting time for the grand final has been brought forward, marginally, opposition is actually growing, even in New South Wales which has the benefit of a public holiday the day after.
The NRL, unlike the AFL, has been progressively reducing day time fixtures. Of the eight games played each weekend, only two are afternoon matches, both on Sunday afternoons.
Despite the success of Monday night football in drawing crowds — the start of last Monday night’s Leichhardt Oval game between the Tigers and the Cowboys had to be delayed to allow the near capacity crowd to get in — attendances at New South Wales games are on the decline. And Friday and Saturday night games are the cause.
The push for a return to a Sunday afternoon NRL grand final clearly has strong support among fans — a fact that surely won’t go unnoticed by AFL clubs concerned at the push for a night AFL grand final.