In the world of sports rights, warehousing is never a good sign. Warehousing, in this sense, is where a broadcaster owns the rights to something and does not show it – but prevents others from showing it instead.
The practice is indicative of an arrangement where the broadcaster has an upper hand because the sport needs it more than vice versa. The fans suffer from a cuckold type situation, the sport a prisoner to its own poorly-conceived contractual fine print.
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Recent examples in rugby league include Channel Nine putting the Sunday afternoon game on one-hour delay and 2GB buying the rights to 7.30pm Saturday games a few years ago and not calling them.
This is a bad sign for a sport because it indicates the product is popular enough to covet, but individual events are not profitable enough to broadcast.
Now, Sunday afternoon matches are live on Nine. And the games that were not previously in HD, will be.
The new battleground, the new home of warehousing – a great scourge of all fans – is the pre-season.
Last year, in concert with Alby Talarico of radiohub.com.au, I wrote to a number of clubs about streaming (audio or video) their pre-season games. There was little or no money to be made on my part, I just love technology and wanted to be involved.
It is more fun to be an outsider than part of the establishment, after all. A number of the clubs got back to me, asking how much it would cost, how would it work, etc.
Then, there was a meeting at League Central and all went quiet. I heard Telstra had told the NRL it owned the rights to the entire pre-season as well as the club network and would not permit it.
Melbourne, bless their cotton socks, have shown during the past couple of years they don't fall for this and have streamed trials from AAMI Park anyway.
Now, even though the new TV deal has not kicked in yet, the clubs have reportedly been told that Nine owns the rights but won't use them.
The story keeps changing.
One interpretation a contact took from a close look at the agreements was that the broadcasters owned the things they were showing – Charity Shield, All Stars, Nines etc – and any rights they had to the rest of the pre-season were ambiguous at best.
I've not seen the contracts. I don't know what the actual situation is.
But it is absolutely bonkers that Latvia and Spain and Super League pre-season games can be viewed on the internet but NRL squads worth millions of dollars play in front of a few thousand people with radio and video blacked out.
It is corporate red tape at its worst – far more backward than delayed telecasts and normal definition for regular season games.
These broadcasts can be leveraged to drive membership. You can only watch the trial if you buy a season ticket before kick-off. They can drive traffic to websites and sell sponsorships.
The only legitimate reason for not showing them are in some cases logistical, or because those who could bring them to us cannot be arsed.
The games themselves? They should never be played in a club's home market polluting an already severely depleted demand for tickets during the course of a year. We should be negotiating venues as a sport and leveraging negotiations. You want a comp game, first see how you go with a trial. This is the charge.
Every game should count for something. The IP of the NRL and its clubs is bankable. Why aren't we banking it?
Personally, until the rights mess is sorted out I would throw the pre-season open to the bloggers, streamers, podcasters and internet radio stations. These people cover the game all year for free.
Let them experiment with new technologies, perhaps providing their content to clubs as part of the deal.
Trainspotters and anoraks do a lot for rugby league and their influence will grow as that of technology grows.
Instead of telling them there is no room in the press box or their audience is too small, embrace them by giving them their time in the sun.