The Origin Scheduling Conundrum

State Of Origin 2013By STEVE MASCORD

ANOTHER Origin series is gone – but we didn’t even wait until it was half over before we started calling for mass changes.

Although the concept has been around since 1980, and we’ve tried many venues, days of the week and gaps between matches, it seems we will never be satisfied with the series – even though it captures the imagination of the whole country and makes the game millions of dollars.

The problem, of course, is the impact on our club competition. Last weekend, 2012 grand finalists Canterbury and Melbourne met at the grand final venue and five of the best players across the two sides were unavailable.

The larger sums clubs pay their players, the more unpalatable this seems. Of course, more and more of players’ wages come from club grants, which in turn comes from TV rights, so there is a quite reasonable argument we should find it MORE palatable, but….

Then there is the small matter of the length of the current NRL TV deal. We’re in the first season of a five year deal and RLW has been told that while some things are negotiable (which games are on the representative weekend, for instance), others (um, Origin) are not.

While much of this is hung on Channel Nine, who own State Of Origin rights, many of the changes being proposed would also upset Fox. The pay television operator shelled out for club football every weekend and that’s what it expects.

NRL head of football operations Nathan McGuirk tells RLW just about every scenario was considered and discussed before we ended up with the current arrangements – confirming our contention in last week’s Big Issue that we’re stuck with what we have until 2017.

He points out the league got plenty out of the negotiations, like guaranteeing just one Friday game the week after Origin and making sure it required very few players to back up.

But let’s go through some of the pros and cons of the ideas that have been tossed up already anyway, since they might provide a glimpse into our future, post current TV deal.

The NRL’s Nathan McGuirk says: “The NRL widely consulted with our Clubs and stakeholders throughout the process of negotiation for the Television broadcast deal. The outcome of our five year agreement was a great one for the game in terms of revenue generated that will fuel the growth of our game and Clubs into the future.

“The detail of the schedule saw a number of changes that have been implemented throughout the representative season for both welfare of players and reducing the effect of Origin on the competition.

“Origin remains the biggest television sporting property and there would be real concerns with any tinkering which could affect the strength of Origin and also the Competition in general.”

THREE ORIGINS ON CONSECUTIVE WEEKENDS

PROS: Clubs have star players available for all games; suspensions in games one or two apply in Origin first; NRL does not have to compete with Origin for publicity over three weeks; an end to split rounds and byes

CONS: Fox paid $500,000,000 for club football and would have none for a month; Nine paid even more for their component that included Wednesday night Origins because there is a captive national audience on that night; Star players have less time to recover from injuries; Origin has less time in the spotlight so is worth less to sponsors; Merchandise manufacturers say it’s not enough time to market supporters’ gear and so would also pay less.

THREE ORIGINS ON CONSECUTIVE WEDNESDAY NIGHTS WITH NINES OR KNOCKOUT CLUB COMP

PROS: Keeps games on highest-rating evening for TV; removes inequalities created by NRL players being unavailable; opportunity to create new competition and unearth new revenue streams; opportunity to push into new markets with Nines/knockout competition; Origin players get distraction-free preparation.

CONS: Fears clubs would not field strongest possible side in Nines/knockout competition; Unlikely Fox and Nine would be satisfied with sub-standard competition; Sponsors and fans would also be sceptical of substitute competition; Either a longer season or fewer NRL games, impacting on either player welfare or commercial returns; Likely breach of television contract.

WEDNESDAY-SUNDAY-WEDNESDAY ORIGIN CONFIGURATION WITH NO CLUB FOOTBALL

PROS: Maintains current camp lengths; Keeps two Origins in Nine’s preferred time slot; No players stood down from club games; longer total series time for sponsors, jersey manufacturers, etc; No club football distractions; gives the majority of NRL players a mid-season break; suspensions in games one or two served initially in Origin.

CONS: Three-to-five weekends without any content for Fox Sports; hands over three to five weekends to rival sports; shorter exposure period for sponsors and merchandise manufacturers.

CURRENT CONFIGURATION BUT WITH NINES/KNOCKOUT COMP DURING ORIGIN PERIOD

phonto (1)PROS: Clubs aren’t forced to play premiership matches without their stars; Gives hope to teams out of premiership running; Opportunity to reach new revenue streams and markets with new competition formats; Provides club content for broadcasters during Origin period.

CONS: No indication that broadcasters have any interest in substitute competitions; Doubts over support from coaches, sponsors and fans; Studies show 1997 mid-season World Club Challenge alienated fans from domestic Super League and many did not return following its completion.

FIVE STATE OF ORIGIN GAMES

PROS: Increased revenue for the game; increased national exposure; bargaining chip to push through some of the initiatives above with television companies; Massive payday for players; Expansion opportunities.

CONS: Lengthens season; More damage to club competition with teams having less access to players; Negative impact on player welfare; Public relations disaster – makes officials looking like they are exploiting players and fans for greater profits; Dilutes content and damages heritage.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

4 Comments

  1. So what about a 3 game origin series including an origin series for each of the following the women’s side, the under 20’s, a nsw cup side v qld cup side,an aboriginal v pacific islands and a kiwi nth island v sth island. The main game could be on Wednesday still and the other games spread over the weekend for t.v rights with the games played in non traditional grounds

  2. Something has to be done. If it is done the right way and sold the right way it can be turned into a positive for sponsors, broadcasters and fans, as well as looking after the welfare of top players and creating a more level playing field for clubs.

    I didn’t even read the 5 Origin option… wrong in so many ways. Can you imagine trying to sell tickets for Origin 4 if it was already 3 nil?

    Definitely the way to go is 3 Origins in back to back weeks, with some form of tournament marketed in conjunction with Origin. You would need to throw a fair bit of money at the tournament to provide the incentive for clubs to take it seriously.

    My choice would be a knockout 9’s comp with 32 teams comprising the 16 NRL clubs, plus another 16 qualifiers from preliminary rounds involving teams from QLD Cup, NSW Cup, NZ, PNG and Pacific Islands (and you could have a Burgess team as well). There might be some fall-off in standard, but there would be so many fresh faces, all fired up about being on the big stage – it would be fantastic.

    Plenty of ways you could add sweeteners for broadcasters and sponsors – and Rugby League would dominate the headlines mid season.

  3. Why didn’t you look at the option of 3 Origins as-is, but held on non-consecutive (3 NRL Rounds between Origins) stand alone weekends? & even hold a Knockout “Challenge Cup” type competition on those same weekends to create more content, whilst leaving the NRL proper unaffected by Origin weakened teams? That’s the best option I think.

    1. Chops it up too much IMO. Better with 3 weeks of Origin – bam! full-on like a finals series, with the added bonus of the Cup comp… then back into the NRL stuff for the build-up to the top 8.

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