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Same game, new attitude: attempted Super League takeover of rugby league indicates the change from traditional amateur sport to corporate ownership of teams and players.

RUPERT MURDOCH: I love the free market, it's certainly been very good to me. I think you'd have to admit, it's been very good to the world.

STAN CORREY: Rupert Murdoch at the National Press Club in Washington two weeks ago. Welcome to Background Briefing, I'm Stan Correy.

News Corporation may have lost the Super League court case, but in Australian sport, it's more likely that a corporation or a franchise will own your game in the 21st Century.

UNIDENTIFIED: The ARL won ten out of ten, made a clean sweep of the case. Every Trade Practices challenge to the [...] commitment agreements brought by News was rejected. The ARL's cross claim against News for breaching contracts, for stealing the property of the ARL, was upheld. The judge made a finding that News Limited had acted dishonestly, and had dishonestly and deceptively set out to encourage clubs and players to breach contracts.

STAN CORREY: Justice Burchett's decision in the Super League case was a great victory for the traditionalists of Australian sport, whether you support rugby league, soccer or Aussie rules. But as a traditionalist myself, I wonder if we're cheering too soon. Was the victory similar to Labor's Federal Election win in 1993, only postponing the inevitable landslide? This time not to the Coalition, but to the loud, brash, globalising forces of sports business.

On the weekend after the Super League court decision, euphoria hit the traditionalists. They'd won their game back from the only-in-it-for-the-pay-TV subscribers' media mogul. But my teenage son, who's in the right target age bracket for the Super League marketing blitz, was more concerned that the Chicago Bulls basketball team had lost a game. I'd like to think his attitude was merely anecdotal evidence, but Dave McCaughan, a youth researcher with advertising agency McCann-Erickson, thinks differently. It's a generational shift that could affect traditional Australian sports allegiances.

DAVE McCAUGHAN: The ups and downs, the successes and failures of Michael Jordan are going to be more important than how the Eels are doing, or you know how Souths are going to go next year.

Now that is indicative I guess, if you like, of the way in which our teenagers are seeking global trends, and that is again something that is common throughout the world, where teenagers constantly seek new outlets. In a teenager, as they're trying to find new ways to identify themselves, to be a little bit different, obviously after having 40 or 50 years of teenage generations trying to do that, it's becoming harder and harder.

So, you're constantly having to look outside of your local realm to look at things that can help you be a little bit different. So, we look at overseas trends and some of them get more and more obscure. It's only, I guess, natural that eventually somebody would pick up an American trend like basketball, which has been so all-encompassing in certain parts of America for so long, and globalise it; and the timing was just right.

RUPERT MURDOCH: The motto of Fox Sports pretty much sums up the nature of our Fox network. Perhaps it's the motto, or should be the motto of our whole company: same game, new attitude.

STAN CORREY: There was more than a rugby football team of lawyers in the Federal Court in Sydney, last week. Justice Burchett was having great fun rebutting the eloquent, but legally creative News Corporation lawyers, trying to get around his decision. But behind Burchett's trashing of the dishonesty of Murdoch's corporate raid on the ARL, was a complex but very relevant debate about the changing nature of the sports market in Australia.

Steve Thompson has worked as a sports manager in athletics and soccer. He now teaches at the University of Technology in Sydney. He says Australian sport has now moved into the era of equity commercialism, where companies rather than clubs, run the game.

STEVE THOMPSON: Obviously, we have to agree with the decision to date, and it is a victory more for the way the cases were run and the issues debated, than for sport and the traditional members' sport. I believe that over time, certain sports will have to go to a more commercial equity approach because people just can't afford it. For example, your average national league soccer club at the moment turns over about the same as a well-run coffee shop. You know, maybe $2 million a year, tops. That's a good business.

Now there's lots of coffee shops out there, but a lot of people though do all of these things with the sport, but right now the Soccer Federation are planning to privatise the national soccer league, or the teams in the national soccer league, simply because they know it's the only way to inject enough funds into keeping Australian players back in Australia, to stop them from going overseas. Now, unless we make that move, soccer - or unless they make that move - soccer will stay as a very small part-time sport in Australia. Now, they made that as a commercial decision, the Australian Soccer Federation, and other sports are looking at it and thinking 'Well, let's do the same.'

The big problem is not all sports are suitable for television, they're not all what they call 'tele-visual', but they all want to be up there. They all see themselves as American gridiron football, which is the way Super League has sold itself, ARL sells itself, AFL sells itself basically. They've used the American sports industry - and that's what it is, it's an industry - as a model, whereas a lot of sports don't fit. Badminton, canoeing, rowing - they're not that type of sport. And part of the problems we have in Australia is that all sports see themselves as being commercial and waiting to be privatised.

The approach they're taking with the pay TV channels is quite scary. They're all going in and expecting squillions of dollars to be thrown at them, and they're being told in many cases 'Why? Nobody wants to watch you.' And this is pretty soul destroying for a lot of these well-meaning, caring people who love their sport. And that's what happening in the ARL - well-meaning, caring people who love going, walking to Redfern Oval or Leichhardt Oval or Parramatta Stadium, they've been bypassed now.

STAN CORREY: But doesn't the victory of the ARL over Rupert Murdoch mean that I can still take a ten minute walk to Redfern Oval to watch my local team, South Sydney? Steve Thompson's answer is 'No.' If you lose the commercial game, it's likely you'll disappear from the field.

Lionel Hogg is a Brisbane sports lawyer. He agrees the ARL had a comprehensive victory in the courtroom, but he says the commercial reality of Australian sport doesn't favour them.

LIONEL HOGG: The problem that the ARL has got is that it still hasn't recognised that it was the catalyst for Super League in the first place. It had for years and years neglected the interests of players, and run its own little cartel. Now, it only woke up when Super League - admittedly motivated by commercial interests - when Super League came in and said 'Well, look, we are going to promote some sort of vision of the game. We are going to reward players for what they're doing. We're going to promote the game in a completely different way.'

Now, the ARL has shown no vision at all. The only vision that it has shown has been borrowed vision from Super League. The ARL competition is looking more and more like Super League every time it's re-jigged. It's just catching up, and unless and until the ARL realises that sport in the '90s is a new game where you just can't impose old style rules and values on players and fans, then it'll only be a pyrrhic victory because the players just won't come to the party.

STAN CORREY: Most of Australia's sports leagues have looked to the North American sports industry for inspiration in management and especially marketing. Coaches, managers, television producers went off to the States in the off season to pick up a bit of good old American razzamatazz, but they always believed the control of the game would remain in traditional hands.

Aussie Rules has managed the mix of commercialism and tradition reasonably well, with their sporting entrepreneurs falling in a heap in the 1980s. But it's clear that Rugby League headquarters in Sydney didn't quite understand what the boys from Brisbane were planning. Geoff Dixon.

GEOFF DIXON: Okay, Stan, what we can see here from the verandah is looking out over Mount Gravatt Cemetery is the Queen Elizabeth, the Second Stadium, now popularly known as ANZ Stadium. We're on the south side of Brisbane looking further south, and as most people would be aware, this is obviously the home ground of the Brisbane Broncos football team.

STAN CORREY: Now, the stadium was built for the Commonwealth Games, wasn't it?

GEOFF DIXON: That's correct. The lighting towers weren't there in 1982 and neither was the eastern grandstand as we now see it. They simply made that grandstand into individualised seating, offering all the creature comforts that they try to for sport in the 1990s. They put a roof on that to keep all their corporate clients free from the elements.

STAN CORREY: And if we went over to the other side, you'd be able to actually point out another icon of Brisbane's sporting geography.

GEOFF DIXON: That's correct. From the other side of the building here, we can look back towards the city and we have a wonderful view of the new grandstand that's been built at the Brisbane Cricket Ground, affectionately known as 'the Gabba'.

Those changes have come about .. we've waited a long time here in Brisbane for those changes, and typically we basically had to wait for the Brisbane Bears football team to relocate from Karara down on the Gold Coast, or Albert Shire. And those new facilities at the Gabba are excellent: some very good dressing rooms for both the cricketers and the football players; the lights are first class; and the viewing angles from the new grandstand are nothing short of excellent.

STAN CORREY: Now, of course, the only stadium that we can't see is Lang Park, which of course now has a different name, but used to be the centre of Queensland Rugby League until it was unceremoniously dumped by the Brisbane Broncos.

GEOFF DIXON: That's certainly the case, although many would argue that it's still home of an elite level football team in the shape of the South Queensland Crushers, and significant also that the Brisbane Strikers are now using that as their home ground.

STAN CORREY: And the Brisbane Strikers are?

GEOFF DIXON: Brisbane Strikers are the Brisbane entry into the A league, which is the elite level soccer competition run in Australia.

STAN CORREY: How come they don't have a name with a B? Is that because they're not owned by Pacific Sports Entertainment and Paul Morgan?

GEOFF DIXON: Could well be the case. I'm sure Porky wouldn't mind getting his hands on the A league. He may become more interested in years to come if the A league goes into a South East Asian league. I'm sure Porky will express some sort of interest once they start adding a South East Asian component to it.

It's probably most significant that they used Lang Park because they were a little bit tired of their old facility there at Perry Park, which was old, conservative, just not very spectator friendly. And while going to Lang Park or Suncorp Stadium, as it is now known, it's a little bit like killing an ant with a hammer in terms of the spectator capacity. The Strikers will get a few thousand people to their games, but they're in a 35,000 seat stadium. The spectator comforts there are excellent in the new grandstand.

UNIDENTIFIED: Without further ado, will you please join me now in welcoming to the stage the Brisbane Broncos! The man wearing number one on Sunday was Julian O'Neill!

STAN CORREY: Paul 'Porky' Morgan is a stockbroker by trade. He's in charge of Pacific Sports Entertainment, the company that owns the Brisbane Broncos. His friends think he's a lovable larrikin; right-wing? yes; a risk-taking entrepreneur? sure; but still a gentleman.

News Corporation owns over 30 per cent of Pacific Sports shares, and those shares have taken a pounding since the Super League decision. But whatever happens, Porky Morgan and the consortium of Brisbane entrepreneurs who began the Broncos believe they introduced professionalism to Australian sports business.

PAUL MORGAN: We never ever wanted to treat the Broncos as anything more than a business. I mean, obviously there is no intention of making a vast amount of money out of it. The intention was to create a really good side, under private enterprise lines, to make sure that there are sufficient funds there to develop what we thought was the way football should be run.

But the proof's in the pudding, I guess. We have a long way to go still, but at least we've got to this stage or maybe stage two.

STAN CORREY: Can you tell me what is the business of sport? What does it mean?

PAUL MORGAN: Sport's just another entertainment mechanism. It's a marketing gimmick, I guess, depending on how well it's presented, number 1, which means all those things that go to make up that mechanism, which are 13 footballers plus another 4 or 5; how well they're coached; how well they're conditioned et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Then of course you've got to look at the creature comforts of the spectator, and of course we must make sure or see if we can have our input into making sure that that product that then becomes out of those two sides competing or whatever, is presented well for TV, for the TV audience.

UNIDENTIFIED: But we hope, and we know that it is your wish, that the club stays in Brisbane for at least 10 years.

REPORTER: But there was no mistaking who the crowd favourite was - team captain Alan Langer.

ALAN LANGER: Well, first of all I'd like to thank all the supporters here today to wish us all the best. It's been a great year. The boys have just loved the ticker tape parade. It's just amazing how many people have turned up, and we just owe it to Brisbane and the Queensland supporters, who have supported us for five years.

REPORTER: Good footballers they may be, but in the music stakes, well, they still have a lot of practice to do.

PAUL MORGAN: The ARL rode on the back of Tina Turner, but the game itself was moribund; it was dead. I mean, three-quarters of the teams were bankrupt. And it was holding together with giving them hand-to-mouth feeds.

STAN CORREY: So, Tina Turner was a marketing gimmick that kept them together?

PAUL MORGAN: The main body was as rich as all get out, and the people that were supposed to be the supporting line for the main body .. I mean, for heaven's sake if you're fair dinkum .. I mean, when Ken Arthurson asked us to vote in Sydney and it was our decision whether we wanted to stay in the ARL or go with Super League, he said 'It's your game', and that's the first time in nine years I'd heard him call it our game. They'd rule with an iron fist. It's a known fact that the ARL had something in the vicinity of $16 million in the bank and half the bloody clubs were broke.

STAN CORREY: Porky Morgan. Andrew Moore thinks Morgan is rewriting history, just to make his vision of sports business more palatable to League fans who think he's just in it for the money.

Moore is a Sydney-based historian who's just about to publish a history of one of the ARL's loyal clubs, North Sydney.

ANDREW MOORE: I think the big difference happened in '94 when you get the arrival of the Brisbane Broncos who weren't this sort of traditional committee that even had links back, historical links with the Labor Party and the Catholic Church and local communities. They were simply a group of Brisbane entrepreneurs on the fringes of the notorious white shoe brigade who were sort of interested in Rugby League, but they were interested in other things as well, particularly in the sports marketing area. And to them it wasn't Rugby League that was the major priority, it was about making money.

And right from the beginning, as soon as they were admitted to the competition, they were disruptive. And one can cast one view on all of that that seems positive to their view of the world, that is to say 'Well, what's happened in 1994, 1995, '96 is about those excluded from power; that is, those in Brisbane responding back.' You get the provinces striking back at the metropolis, and I guess that's one way of looking at it.

But on the other hand, you've got to bear in mind that those Brisbane entrepreneurs and those Canberra entrepreneurs as well, who came connected with football clubs, they accrued all of their profits from the virtue of their connection with this broad entity, a Rugby League competition, run admittedly from Sydney, and run in some respects I'm sure in a despotic fashion. And perhaps it seemed more despotic than it was at the time.

But they were different, all of those football clubs, and the Brisbane Broncos were the model of what was to come in the future; that is, you had private entrepreneurs, you didn't have an accountable committee, and you had all the ethos and their practice was very different. That is, they weren't interested .. I mean, a traditional football club, as I said, wasn't interested essentially in making profits.

If they did make profits, well, that was no bad thing; if they made a surplus, well, that was all and well. But I think the Brisbane Broncos obviously existed totally on that type of principle and were very dismissive of what seemed to be rather antiquated commercial principles upon which the New South Wales Rugby League seemed to run, at least in their view.

I don't know that that's so. I mean, what had happened in the mid 1980s suggested that Rugby League was becoming not only more widely popular around Sydney and across classes in Sydney, but also becoming more commercially viable. When you started to get television wanting to pay $15 million to broadcast the television rights over one year, then you started to see a totally different situation in that context as well.

But I think it's the ethos and it's the view of the world of Paul Morgan and Barry Maranta and those sorts of people which is entirely different to Rugby League people in Sydney, and that in a sense was the beginning of the end. And I think, clearly, while the powers to be in the New South Wales Rugby League encouraged the Brisbane Broncos and may even have talked enthusiastically through their organ, the big league, about what a wonderful thing it was to have these businessmen coming into Rugby League, really that was the beginning of the end for them in that respect.

STAN CORREY: Morgan wonders what the fuss is all about. What's wrong with making money from sport?

PAUL MORGAN: I mean, at the end of the day, Pacific Sports is going to end up being, hopefully, an owner of franchises, manager of elite sports people - we've now got thirty elite sportsmen on our books, seven of which I think are world champions. Putting together those franchises and managing those elite sports people gives you an opportunity to have an influence on the sporting persuasions, say, Rugby League, soccer, whatever thing you're talking about.

But I mean, being an owner of a side is very important to get your opinion across and hopefully to help improve that sport. Mark McCormack said only a month ago, if he had his life and times again, he would not be investing in sportsmen, he would be investing in franchises and events.

Now in saying that, Pacific Sports are going to invest in events, because they own teams and athletes. We have a production company now which will produce the event and package it for TV.

So, we're just a carrier of a particular product, in this case of sport. Now, people don't understand that. People understand how things go around in rock 'n roll, but when they see sport being the same thing, it'll take a while to catch on.

STAN CORREY: Andrew Moore loves to watch the Broncos play football, but he thinks Porky's claim to being the best sports business entrepreneur is a bit far-fetched.

ANDREW MOORE: It was not as well run, it is not as well run as the propaganda would suggest. They should have won, and they were talking about it, after they won those consecutive premierships - I'm not sure it was consecutive premierships, but two premierships, you know - what they were talking about was the sort of thousand year premiership where Brisbane would win every year. But in actual fact, they probably under-achieved, under-performed, in terms of the infrastructure and in terms of this mythical .. it's not mythical, it's a very large figure of $13 million turnover that they constantly talk about versus a Sydney clubs' sort of viable $5 million or $6 million or $7 million turnover.

In terms of all those resources, and in terms of the juniors that they had to develop the game, then they've actually done pretty poorly actually. The figures from the late 1980s are very revealing in the sense of, when you looked at Sydney which was very Balkanised into small constituent elements of Rugby League football clubs, they had access to juniors even out in Western Sydney and Penrith and Parramatta.

They had access to figures like 3,000 or 4,000, and Balmain had about 600, I think, juniors at that stage, and that's of course the nursery of Rugby League; whereas in Queensland, they had that extraordinary monopoly of a one State, one city team, whereby they could command access to 30,000 juniors.

I mean, that's what it was built upon really, not the commercial acumen of Paul Morgan and Barry Maranta et al, but of the access to those juniors. I mean, it was hardly surprising that with 30,000 to play with, that they couldn't find the odd Wendell Sailer or Steve Renouf lurking around in the background somewhere; whereas for a football club based in the inner city of Sydney, that prospect looked increasingly remote. It's remarkable that players have come up in that context.

GEOFF DIXON: The introduction of the South Queensland Crushers was significant in the evolution of Super League, because I think there was some sort of mutual dependency going on between the Australian Rugby League and the Brisbane Broncos. There had been threats made on a number of occasions by Ken Arthurson and John Quayle concerning the Broncos continuing in the competition.

Typically, the ARL, or the New South Wales Rugby League administration would say things like 'It would be very easy for the Broncos to say "No" to the licence that we issue to them every year', or tongue in cheek 'Well, if you don't like our rules, you can take your bat and ball and go somewhere else.' Now, all along the ARL knew that there was no other league capable of supporting the Brisbane Broncos, so obviously they didn't expect the Broncos to facilitate the development of their own league.

These threats had been made over a number of years and I think Porky Morgan and Maranta and his fellow directors were always pretty confident, and they knew that the Rugby League wouldn't be game to kick them out of the competition because the Broncos had such a public following here in Brisbane. They were significant in merchandise sales, not only here in Queensland but were arguably the largest seller of merchandise in New South Wales. They were critical to the TV contracts. The Broncos play most of their games on Friday nights, and that's where the TV market is lying.

But that dependency really changed, I think, when the Crushers were created, because here those threats, if you're sitting in a Broncos boardroom, could all of a sudden be carried out. The Broncos could be kicked out of the competition and there already was a team in place to take over.

And significantly with the QRL involvement in the Crushers, it could always be perceived by the ARL as being a hell of a lot easier to control than what the Brisbane Broncos had been over the years.

STAN CORREY: Geoff Dixon from Griffith University. To Porky Morgan, the Crushers aren't a problem, because if you've got a football team like the Broncos, your investment is safe.

The day I interviewed Morgan, there was a letter in the Courier Mail, a Murdoch paper, criticising him for his less than complimentary views on ethnic names for soccer clubs. The letter writer implied that this was a bit rich, coming from someone who called their team 'that very Australian term for a horse, "the Bronco".' Morgan's reply reveals the significance of the US model of sports business to the development of Pacific Sports Entertainment.

PAUL MORGAN: What I said that led to all that was, I said that if Australia's fair dinkum about having a premier league in soccer, they can't afford to have more than 8 teams. Now, Super League sees fit that they shouldn't have more than 10, so probably the right number in soccer is 6. That's point 1.

Point 2. Now that all the ethnics or all these overseas immigrants live in Australia, why shouldn't .. okay, I'm all for changing our culture, but at the same time, this is Australia. I can't see the relevance of Olympic, [...], Hellenic or whatever, Heidelberg. I can't see the relevance of that in Australia, I'm sorry. Now that's my opinion and no-one else's. But I'm a potential investor in soccer, and I would suspect that soccer needs a lot of potential investors.

STAN CORREY: I suppose they're making the point that the Bullets, the Bandits, the Broncos - very American culture.

PAUL MORGAN: Well, in saying that, I'd like to compare the seat that that gentleman sits at a soccer match, with a seat at the Bullets, and for that matter a seat at the Bandits that the Bandits fans have had this season, and for that matter as well, I guess, we'll compare a seat at the Broncos with a seat at the soccer also. So, I mean, money breeds success, breeds facilities, breeds developmental funds.

At the end of the day, America's managed to put together another seven NFL sides that have come up enormously competitively and the fans seem to be getting what they want, because the TV audiences every year at the Rose Bowl or the Super Bowl are increasing. When I was over there for a month, every ground was packed out. So, I mean, they must be doing something right. I don't know what, but it's something.

STAN CORREY: Despite what Porky Morgan says, there is something wrong with American sports business, and that crisis may affect Australia one day if we apply the American model too seriously. The crisis is illustrated by the still continuing Congressional hearings on the relocation of professional teams by private owners to cities who give the best financial deal.

Ironically, some American sports fans think the Australian model of public ownership of sports teams would help their cause. The problem is only one professional team, the National Football League franchise, the Green Bay Packers, is publicly owned; and as sports writer Terry Pluto explains, the American sports leagues think that's one team too many.

TERRY PLUTO: In fact all three sports have passed laws, by-laws, to prevent that from happening, because they do not want cities owning teams. And you say, 'Well, why not?' It should be, you know, it's good for .. I mean, the people of Green Bay do not have to worry about Baltimore or anybody else stealing their team, they own it, and they can make the decision upon how much money they want to put into building a new stadium for them or whatever.

Well, that's how it ought to be. But in this country of the sort of rugged individualist and all that, the owners, they want to protect their own investments or basically they want to be able to own their own teams and do what they want. And in the end, it's the group of owners from each franchise who get together and pick the commissioner of the league and drop the rules, and they drop the rules to favour their own interests.

They don't really care about the fans or whatnot. I mean, they care about getting the fans' money and keeping them coming to the games, but they don't care about the people of Green Bay or Cleveland or anywhere else. So, they just care about where they can get the most money, what city's going to pay them the most and give them the best deal.

So that's why here in this country, there is no real debate about the teams being publicly owned, because they're virtually all privately owned, with the exception of Green Bay, and all the leagues have rules against that. And we have all kinds of anti-trust rules and that kind of thing that I think might work against franchises becoming probably .. it would be .. I guess maybe they could take it to court and try and change it. But there's no big thing in that direction, although in my mind if a city is paying $200 million or $300 million to build a brand new stadium for a team, it ought to at least own part of that team.

STAN CORREY: David Faulk manages Michael Jordan, the superstar basketball player for the NBA team, the Chicago Bulls. Faulk is rumoured to be negotiating for Jordan at $125 million, 3 year contract. He was invited by Super League to talk to coaches, players and managers at their seminar in San Diego last December, to talk about manipulating the cult of personality.

DAVID FAULK: The discussion really centred about the structure of sports, and what would make sense in terms of salary caps and whether the teams should contract the players or the league should contract the players, and then the overall public relations aspect of the fight between the Super League and the older, established governing body.

And it was a very, very interesting discussion because Rugby's not that well known in America, it's known, but it's not a high profile sport. And a gentleman like Rupert Murdoch can certainly transform it into the 21st century through television and media coverage, and it's a tremendous opportunity that I hope will not be wasted on a lot of internecine battling.

STAN CORREY: You've been in this area for some time. What do you see as the dynamics of sporting business as different from the old traditional kind of amateur sport?

DAVID FAULK: Well, first of all, I think that most of the professional leagues - certainly in America, in basketball, football and baseball - are really promoting the superstars, rather than promoting the institutions of the teams. You know, as short as 10 years ago, 15 years ago, in a sport like basketball you'd have the Celtics versus the Lakers, or in a sport like football you might have, you know, the Dallas Cowboys versus the Kansas City Chiefs.

And now the superstars in each team really define the identity of the teams, and people come to watch Michael Jordan play Patrick Ewing, or to watch Shaqueal O'Neill(?) play Hakim Alijuan(?). It's become so much more marketing driven than simply institutional.

STAN CORREY: And of course that's caused problems, but you believe it's had benefits.

DAVID FAULK: Well, I think it's produced steadily increasing television revenues, because the fans really identify as much with the stars as they do with the teams. The stars become the team.

STAN CORREY: Terry Pluto believes the cult of the super player and agent is ruining American sport.

TERRY PLUTO: And it's chipping away at the soul of sport, and by that I mean in America it isn't enough just to get a big salary from your team. You have men such as David Faulk and other sports agents who desperately want to turn their clients into these megastar, celebrity types who have their own television commercials for T-shirts or caps or Gatorade or any sort of products you could think, where you turn these guys into glorified hucksters.

And what I think happens is that they beat away at the players and they tell them 'You know, your real loyalty is not so much to the team, it's to your agent, to your lawyer, to your accountant, to all these people who are going to get you the best deal; not just the best deal from the team, but the best commercial deal.' And then they say 'Well you don't want to play in a small city such as Cleveland, or St. Louis, or somewhere like that. You want to play in Los Angeles or New York, maybe Chicago', because that is where not only the most people live, but that's where the captains of industry live.

And the people who are picking who's going to represent Ford Motor Company in their commercials or whatever, they're not in Indianapolis, Indiana, they're in these different towns.

So what these agents do is they then try to figure out ways to get their players to play in these bigger markets. And they will sometimes cause their players to hold out and force trades. So again, it's a real tough thing. So even if, say, a team in Cleveland can pay a guy the same amount of money that a team in New York can, the player could still say 'Well, you know, I could make more money in New York from commercials and other marketing opportunities that will simply never be available in a place like Cleveland.' And agents know that, and so they really are power brokers in the game, and that bothers me a whole lot.

STAN CORREY: Super League is all about pay TV and big money for players, owners and clubs. But do my concerns about that ruining sport, worry a new generation of teenagers for whom global sport is the main game? Dave McCaughan of McCann-Erickson.

DAVE McCAUGHAN: And while I may have grown up in a neighbourhood where kids define themselves as being either Manchester United fans or not, in a neighbourhood of Sydney, the reality of it was that we were always much closer to whether or not we were Parra fans, and that was more important to us.

But that's no longer the case. Your primary sports allegiance could be to a team that is based on the other side of the world. It doesn't make any difference these days. Well, you've got to remember too that we're now .. I mean, one of the interesting things is that if you're a teenager in Australia, you're probably third, fourth generation of TV Australians. And I think you look at the context of what has happened in Australia with television, and as we've matured and gone through a couple of generations of getting used to television, that we now look at sport as the primary way to view sport is on TV; and going to it live is, if you like, a secondary and sometimes interesting way to do it, but it's not the way we really think about being a sports spectator.

It's the context that we always talk about - if you're going to watch a game live and you see a try being scored, you automatically think 'Geez, I wish I had the replay.' Well, to today's teenager, they've grown up solidly within that context, and so not surprisingly the TV viewer-ship then defines the way they think about viewing sport and then things like accessibility and city or national boundaries become irrelevant, because if it's available on TV it doesn't matter really where it's coming from as long as it's the sport I enjoy or it's the team I follow.

STAN CORREY: A report called 'Australians In Sport' was released last week by market researchers Brian Sweeney and Associates. It revealed that in 1995, 98 per cent of 16 to 65 year olds watched sport on television, and that statistic takes us back to Rupert Murdoch.

RUPERT MURDOCH: Fox Sports is another point of pride in our company. There was no Fox Sports two years ago, but in the upcoming season we will present free, over the air, the National Hockey League, including the Stanley Cup, major league baseball, including the World Series, and the National Football League, including the Super Bowl, and that's just one season.

But Fox is a work in progress. Watch it grow, watch it strive for excellence and innovation in all things as it goes on. Believe me, there was zero opportunity for just another television network with just another set of the same choices and the same programs. We've done it differently, sometimes well - as I said before, sometimes badly. But the great thing about television is that you can bury your mistakes quickly and move on to something new.

STAN CORREY: Is Super League a mistake that Rupert Murdoch wants to bury? Will it be a repeat of his almost disastrous investment in British pay TV in the early '90s, when one banker's phone call could have sent his whole empire crashing.

Well, I did try to find some nervous bankers to comment, but why should Rupert worry? News Corporation has the best tax minimisation schemes in the world, and Murdoch has already buried the losses of some of his over-the-top US sports investments, for example, the National Football League. So John Reedy, a media analyst with Wall Street financial firm, Smith Barney, wasn't too concerned about Rupert's potential damages on Super League.

JOHN REEDY: Well, first of all, I think you'd just have to put it in perspective. We look at News Corp as a company which is generating what's called cash flow, or earnings before interest taxes depreciation and amortisation; that's really the way many media companies are viewed in the United States. They're generating in US dollars. The Murdoch company is probably something like a billion too.

And this possible hit would be equivalent to about 400 million US - certainly not something the company would be over joyous about. On the other hand, I think you have to just relate it to that year as to one year's cash flow, and you can see that it could be coped with.

I also suspect that there would be insurance and other appeals, so we would not think that this is, even on a worst case assumption, this is not the end of the world, but clearly it would be a disappointing dispersion of certain assets to spend $300 million or $400 million in fees to some organisation and get no programming from it.

STAN CORREY: As you say, there's no sign that investors on Wall Street are nervous or worried about that globalisation of News Corporation?

JOHN REEDY: No, but I would acknowledge that the major media stocks, these diversified broad-based companies, none have been exactly stellar performers lately, with the exception of Disney, which is near a high. But Time Warner, Viacom and News Corp have had some pains lately, as people react differently to these various strategies and various changes that go on within the company - changes in management, changes in the interim prospects of a business.

RUPERT MURDOCH: Well, for all of us, I've got to say it's been a blast. I love, as you do, as journalists I think generally do, working with the ideas of the world, playing in the theatre of the mind. At News Corporation, we're interested in ideas, not just dollars and cents, and, interestingly, that seems to work too.

There was constant and increasingly fast-paced change in the technology of distribution in communications. We all know that we are living through an information revolution which is sweeping the world, changing everything: business, politics, science, culture, entertainment, sports, even warfare. Many of its effects are wonderful, but some of course are quite uncomfortable. But all, I submit, is unstoppable.

STAN CORREY: But Rupert Murdoch was stopped, in Australia at least, by Justice Burchett. A victory for the non-profit sports traditionalists? Maybe. Steve Thompson, Sports Management expert and a supporter of a loyal but demographically shaky Balmain Rugby League Club, believes there's still some hope for local sport against the global media barons. But it's not found in the Super League court decision.

STEVE THOMPSON: I think one of the interesting thing about Justice Burchett's decision was that it was a traditional decision, and I really think there is a gap between what the public and what we Australians want, and what really is. And I think Burchett missed that gap as well. He went back to how the laws were written, and as we know, laws always are maybe 10, 15 years behind the times, and then they get updated.

And I think that the decision and the ARL are trying to reflect what people believe: the tradition. And I don't know .. that's not where sport in Australia is; it's not where opera companies are; it's not where a lot of other artistic endeavours are. And while it's nice, it's a nice warm feeling to have picket fences - it's sort of like a Howard campaign from four or five elections ago - it's not necessarily where we are at the moment. But it's nostalgic, it's nice.

STAN CORREY: But what about that aspect of being a traditionalist sports fan who likes, say, watching South Sydney and they may be disappearing - doesn't all this commercialism leave the fans out? It excludes the fans.

STEVE THOMPSON: It does, yes. No pennies, no programs. What the Melbourne Cricket Ground say that it costs an extra $30 .. there's a subsidy of $30 on everybody in the seats. Now Souths, if they played at Redfern Oval, probably wouldn't get anybody; there is not enough money to cover them, cover the costs. So, it doesn't exist. They shouldn't exist perhaps. And the fans are going to lose.

STAN CORREY: But isn't that depressing?

STEVE THOMPSON: Yes, it's depressing. But maybe they're playing in the wrong league. I believe that there's going to be a stage where I will walk to my local oval and watch Five Dock play Rodd Point in a soccer, rugby league, tennis match, whatever it is, and then go home and watch Super League or something on television. And I know the difference. And I get just as excited about Rodd Point playing Five Dock.

STAN CORREY: So, while you're saying that this era of equity commercialism is here to stay, you're not saying that local and the tribal allegiances necessarily have to disappear from sport?

STEVE THOMPSON: Exactly. And that's where I think the AFL, the Aussie Rules, have done well. They've stuck to their knitting. They do that really well. They play the game well. It's got good crowds, and they're local. And I think they've got rid of all their global pretences, whereas Rugby League hasn't matured past that yet. They still have all the global pretences. But it's costly.

STAN CORREY: So, in a sense, they would have been better to concentrate on developing local and leagues, rather than just focusing all on the Winfield competition, as it was described?

STEVE THOMPSON: Yes, yes. All they focused on was the dollars from Winfield, or Rothmans, and that was to me one of the weaknesses. They focused on one source of income. They didn't look at their whole business. There were parts of their business that were falling in a hole and they let them go.

UNIDENTIFIED: I don't think you can change people's cultural allegiances. I don't think you can change their tribalism. In actual fact, I think many people might be resorting to parochialism and might have an increasingly parochial view of the world despite international travel, despite television and that sort of thing. It's possible to sit in the pub in Wigan, as I've done, and talk to people who know more about what's happening in North Sydney in Rugby League than people in North Sydney.

But I don't know that that's the end of the story. I think there will be .. I mean the people like Paul Morgan - presumably test cases of whether or not that model of organised sport works. And I guess we assume, partly because we're pessimists, that that is the way of the future, that is that sport itself won't matter and that money will, and the cheque books will prevail.

STAN CORREY: I've been speaking to some people, friends of yours, who've known you for a long time, and one of them said that your grandfather was a former - may have been a former Premier of Queensland. Is that right?

PAUL MORGAN: Great grandfather was, yes. He was Premier of Queensland in 1906-1908. He actually caused a merge between, or should I say a - what did he do? - I think he grabbed hold of the Liberal and the Labor Party and formed a government. Yes, he did. That's right. And then he became governor of New Guinea. Yes. Fine old guy. I can't imagine the Liberals or the Labor Party getting anything today, but....

STAN CORREY: So possibility, I think it was Sir Arthur Morgan, and do you have Sir Porky Morgan in the future Premier of Queensland?

PAUL MORGAN: No, I don't think so. No. I'd like to think so, but unfortunately they don't pay enough, you know. I'm a bit of a believer if you pay peanuts you get monkeys, so that's why I think our country's probably not being run all that well at the moment. So, I don't think I'll be in politics.

STAN CORREY: So you'll stick with sport and business rather than sport and politics?

PAUL MORGAN: I think so, yes. I'm not devious enough.


UNIDENTIFIED: You ain't seen nothing till you've seen the new international rugby super twelve. Be there.