Can’t do right for wrong

There’s an expression that goes, “You can’t do right for wrong”. Or, similarly, you could quote Bart Simpson’s example of a paradox: “You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t”. Such phrases probably sum up how the men at Red Hall felt after reading Ian Lenagan’s criticisms of the new Sky TV deal in Monday’s League Express.

The new deal is a five-year extension to the present contract which ends in prior to 2017, meaning that Super League will remain with Sky Sports until the end of 2021. RFL chairman Brian Barwick has said that the new contract “is the biggest in Rugby League history and actually offers Super League clubs an uplift of 63 per cent in annual distributions”. 

Taken alongside the BBC’s commitment to international rugby league until the 2017 World Cup and extension of Super League coverage on 5Live Sports Extra, this is one area of rugby league still looking relatively healthy.

However, Lenagan has criticised the RFL for, firstly, agreeing to a new deal with three years remaining on the present contract and, secondly, dealing exclusively with Sky Sports rather than allowing others, for example BT Sports, to make a bid.

Lenagan’s argument – and he is supported in this by other Super League chairmen such as Salford’s Marwan Koukash – is that the rights to broadcast Super League could have achieved a great deal more revenue for the clubs had the RFL handled things differently. By renegotiating now and for such a long extension the RFL have committed Super League to Sky Sports for the next eight years – and a lot can change in eight years.

For example, if BT Sports continue to make inroads into Sky’s soccer, rugby union and other coverage of live sports, Super League suddenly becomes a whole lot more valuable. Or perhaps Super League could have been the beneficiary of BT Sports’ spending, one way or another. BT may have offered a much more generous sum, which could have been taken by the RFL, or used to squeeze more money from Sky.

Is Lenagan right? He certainly makes a well-reasoned argument, and like the club chairmen generally he has a great deal of business experience to draw upon (possibly an argument there for Super League clubs to run the competition themselves, a suggestion again advanced by Koukash this week). 

However, the argument works both ways. Had the RFL waited a few more years it could be that BT Sports, having spent huge sums of money for Premier League, FA Cup and European Cup soccer, as well as Premiership rugby union and other things, are now in financial trouble, and Sky Sports know that all those valuable properties will soon be back. Suddenly, Super League – whether rightly or wrongly, and we would have to say wrongly – will be worth a whole lot less to Sky.

It doesn’t seem quite fair to criticise the RFL for this one. We criticise them over Super League sponsorship: when the deal with engage finished, why was the best they could do that payment-in-kind (effectively, no payment at all) deal with Stobart? When that deal was cancelled, why wasn’t anything else lined up? By contrast, the RFL have TV deals for Super League, Championship, Challenge Cup, Four Nations and World Cup games for the next four to eight years.

Or consider the anger over the World Cup broadcasting, when Premier Sports gained extensive rights and Sky Sports were excluded. People complained then, yet now the opposite has happened and people are still complaining about it.

It seems unfair to criticise the RFL for not sorting out sponsorships sooner and for taking rights away from Sky, only to then complain at sorting out a TV deal in advance and not seeking an alternative broadcaster. This isn’t directed at Lenagan particularly, or any other individual, but sometimes when we complain we’re not being consistent, and sometimes not even being reasonable. That’s when it stops being a complaint or a criticism, and simply becomes moaning – and we all need to do less moaning this year.

Keep Your Eye on Rugby League

Twitter: @Tony_Williams88     

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