27 October 2020

Memo to Channel Nine: the Raiders are ready for prime time

| Tim Gavel
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Raiders playing at Canberra Stadium. Photo: Tim Gavel

Will we see the Raiders on more free-to-air television broadcasts in 2021? Based on evidence, we should. Photo: Tim Gavel.

Over the past 30 years or so there have been three perennial issues about Canberra which refuse to die.

The top issue that has resonated for as long as I can remember is the cost of petrol in Canberra compared to almost anywhere else in Australia. Various explanations have been given for Canberra’s high comparative petrol price but none really pass the pub test.

The second issue relates to the derogatory comments made by people who have not lived in Canberra, but are experts on Canberra. Add to this the individuals who might have lived here for a short period of time and haven’t returned in the last decade or so, and espouse the lack of this, that or the other, in relation to our city.

One often-heard complaint is that Canberra doesn’t have a beach. This observation clearly shows some significant insight. No, Canberra doesn’t have a beach, but our city does have a host of other features. And many people in Canberra have cars and can drive to the beach. Or they can catch a bus and get to either Sydney beaches or the south coast in a relatively short period of time.

It’s not helped when the media constantly refers to ‘Canberra’ when they really mean the Federal Parliament. The impression that’s given is that ‘Canberra’ is making decisions about the lives of Australians, when in fact it’s representatives from throughout the Commonwealth of Australia who are members of the Federal Parliament. Canberra just happens to be the venue of Federal Parliament.

I would argue that the third issue, which resonates just as strongly as the top two, is the lack of free-to-air television coverage afforded the Canberra Raiders and the Brumbies.

Given the Brumbies are playing in a competition that was created to provide content for pay television, there is less of an argument on that front when it comes to free-to-air.

It is a totally different story with the free-to-air television coverage of the NRL on Channel 9.

For a long time it was claimed that the Raiders didn’t warrant free-to-air coverage because of their lack of on-field success. Yet once the club was successful again the argument changed. It morphed into an argument about audiences, that the Raiders didn’t attract enough viewers in rugby league heartlands, such as the Western Suburbs of Sydney.

It reached a low point in 2013 when the Raiders featured in just one free-to-air game in the regular season.

Heading into the 2020 season, the Raiders were originally scheduled to feature on free-to-air television eight times. This was up from five in 2019. The original 2020 free-to-air schedule for the Raiders was the highest since the current broadcast structure was established in 2007.

Then COVID-19 hit.

With the rescheduling of the season, eight games became three on free-to-air. It seemed that despite their success the previous year, the Raiders were back to square one.

Now we have new ammunition.

Figures released detailing viewing numbers for Fox Sports and Kayo during the 2020 season show just how short-sighted the Channel 9 approach has been.

The Raiders were the fourth most-watched team on Fox and Kayo during the 2020 regular season with an average of 350,000 viewers tuning in to watch the Green Machine ahead of teams such as the Broncos.

Parramatta was the most-watched team on pay television with 378,000, followed by the Storm, then South Sydney, then the Raiders.

The bottom three teams were Manly, the Dragons and the Bulldogs. This was possibly a reflection on their form in 2020.

The Raiders-Roosters game in the finals was the fourth most-watched NRL finals game ever on Fox with 495,000 viewers. It was also on free-to-air with an audience of 781,000. The return of Sonny Bill Williams was admittedly a factor in the high ratings.

The figures also illustrate the size of the free-to-air audience when compared to pay-TV, and it’s the reason why it’s so important to the club to have this greater exposure.

Greater exposure leads to more commercial opportunities. Greater exposure also leads to an uptake in membership.

The hope is that when the free-to-air schedule is being finalised for 2021, the popularity of the Raiders on pay television is taken into account. If they are looking for ratings data, they don’t have to look too far.

Original Article published by Tim Gavel on The RiotACT.

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