The 6pm game: Why the fuss?
One of the more vexed changes for the 2017 NRL Draw was the addition of a 6pm game on Fridays, which has drawn some support but also, in true rugby league fashion, plenty of pockets of outrage on social media.
It's pretty standard fare on Twitter for people to be outraged over something that a) hasn't happened yet and b) may or may not be a rousing success. But what are the pros and cons, and who is positively and negatively affected?
The criticisms seem to revolve around how tricky it may be to get to a footy ground for a 6pm kick-off on a weekday – meaning poor crowds for those games – or home to a TV, meaning poor ratings.
The demise of Monday Night Football, which was popular on Fox Sports, may be a blessing in disguise for the pay TV broadcaster as viewers of the new 6pm Friday timeslot may stick around on Fox for the 8pm Friday game rather than switching to Channel Nine. If it does prove to be a ratings disaster though, it's unlikely the pay TV host will argue for its retention. On that basis and given the potential upsides, surely it's an experiment worth conducting?
Where do they land?
In the opening 20 rounds of the schedule (the final six weeks will be released at a later date), there are three weeks with no Friday 6pm game in the pre-Origin bye weeks, plus Good Friday, leaving 16 games starting at 6pm on a non-holiday Friday.
Of those, there are five matches (so, a third of all the 6pm kick-off games) that actually start at 8pm local time in New Zealand (four Warriors home games in Auckland and Hamilton and a Bulldogs home game in Dunedin).
Of the rest, three are at Moore Park (two Roosters home games and a Souths home game at Allianz Stadium) which is a short hop from the Sydney CBD.
No other venue has more than one: Belmore, AAMI Park, GIO Stadium, McDonald Jones Stadium, Pepper Stadium, Cbus Super Stadium, UOW Jubilee Oval and Brookvale Oval get one each – 11 of 201 games that start at 6pm local time.
"I can't get to the ground by 6pm on a Friday"
There will be people in this situation. There are also families with kids for whom an 8pm (approximately) kick off on a Friday night is simply too late, who will relish the chance to take the kids to a game and still have them in bed before 9pm.
Also not everyone works 9-5, Monday to Friday. There are shift workers, part time workers, students, people with rotating rosters who may find the time slot preferable.
If you work in the Sydney CBD then getting to Moore Park by 6pm is no issue if you're out anywhere close to 5pm. Plus if you're a Manly fan you've got games against the Roosters and Rabbitohs on offer that finish early enough to hand you a one-hour commute via ferry back to Manly wharf.
The Storm and Knights 6pm games are also easily doable for those on regular hours anywhere close to the CBD.
If you're a Penrith or Manly fan who works in the city you probably won't make it home in time to make kick-off for your one and only 6pm Friday game but on the flipside, if you work locally it will give you a rare opportunity to take the kids to an earlier game. Worst case, it's one of around 11 home games you'd have to sit out.
"I can't even get home in time to watch a 6pm game"
There will be people in this situation too. If you've got a long commute why not pick up the NRL Digital Pass and watch the first half on the bus or train to soak up your commute?
Failing that, record the game on Foxtel IQ (it is a Fox-only game after all) or even DVD-R or VHS and watch it later on. We did have delayed games on Friday nights for years.
Or if you really can't watch it live or at home or at the pub or on your phone or record it, then, worst case, there's still another seven games live on TV each week.
How bad can it be?
What's the worst case scenario? Say the crowds for the 11 games that start at 6pm local time, and ratings for the 16 games that start at 6pm Eastern time, are terrible? If so the fixture would most likely be reconsidered for the following year. No club other than the Roosters (who get two) gets more than one 6pm kick-off for a home game.
Some of the comments on social media – variously calling for those responsible to be sacked and/or beaten with a variety of blunt objects – seem like somewhat an overreaction. Let's just see how it goes. You might even like it.
This article first appeared on NRL.com