Tom Waterhouse
Tom Waterhouse Scott Barbour / Getty Images

NRL fans question Waterhouse's place on our TV screens

UPDATE: CHANNEL Nine says the prominent role given to Tom Waterhouse in its rugby league broadcasts generated a public backlash.

The admission to a parliamentary inquiry on Wednesday came as the National Rugby League admitted the online bookmaker's appearances had "blurred the lines" between commentary and advertising.

Mr Waterhouse appeared as a quasi commentator during Nine's coverage of the opening rounds of the NRL, drawing fierce criticism from anti-gambling groups and league fans in general.

Scott Briggs, the director of commercial and regulatory affairs at Nine, told the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform the station had received a number of written and verbal complaints in relation to the segments.

Those complaints, coupled with Nine's desire to comply with the impending code of practice banning the broadcasting of live odds, had prompted the broadcaster to revise Mr Waterhouse's role.

"I think it's fair to say anyone that observed last weekend's broadcasts of NRL matches would have noticed that we did move to a discrete segment," Mr Briggs told the committee, which is examining advertising of gambling services in sport.

"It's not our intention to blend him as a commentator. He's there as a spokesperson for his company in an advertising sense.

"It's now quite a discrete segment. It's not shared by Channel Nine commentators. It's branded with Tom Waterhouse graphics (and a) Tom Waterhouse microphone. There's no interaction between him and the commentators other than for the commentators to throw to him and that segment."

Senator Nick Xenophon raised concerns last week that Mr Waterhouse's appearances had exposed a loophole in the code.

Earlier on Wednesday the NRL told the hearing it was so concerned about Nine's use of Mr Waterhouse it raised the matter with the station.

NRL strategic projects general manager Shane Mattiske said the Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports, of which the NRL is a member, agreed there needed to be a clear distinction between commentary and the promotion of betting odds.

He conceded Channel Nine's use of Mr Waterhouse, who declined to appear before the inquiry on Wednesday, was not in the spirit of this agreement.

"We don't want to see sports gambling inter-woven in the match itself," Mr Mattiske told the committee, which is examining advertising and promotion of gambling services in sport.

"It's plain in the first rounds of the competition the lines were a little blurred."

Nine and the NRL each denied having a deal in place with Mr Waterhouse, but confirmed they were in active negotiations with the betting leviathan.

Mr Briggs and Mr Mattiske both said media reports of a $50 million, five-year deal were off the mark, although the latter did confirm the figures being discussed were "significant".

Mr Briggs said any deal Nine struck with Mr Waterhouse would be tied into a broader arrangement with the NRL.

Under questioning from Senator Xenophon, Mr Mattiske denied the NRL's attempts to clamp down on match-fixing were compromised by lucrative gambling sponsorship deals, pointing to the recently established integrity unit as proof the league was serious about the issue.

"The integrity of our game is the primary focus," he said.

Mr Mattiske said gambling sponsorship made up only a small component of the NRL's revenue stream.

Of the NRL's $170 million income stream last year gambling sponsorship accounted for just $4 million, he said.

Mr Briggs said gambling advertising was a "small but important part" of Nine's revenue, but did not provide a specific figure.

Representatives from the Ten and Seven networks, the Australian Wagering Council, the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association and academic Samantha Williams also appeared before the committee on Wednesday.

The committee is due to report in May.

 

NRL raised Waterhouse concerns directly with Channel Nine

THE National Rugby League has admitted online bookmaker Tom Waterhouse's appearances during Channel Nine's Friday night rugby league broadcasts "blurred the lines" between commentary and advertising.

Mr Waterhouse appeared as a "commentator" in the opening rounds of the NRL competition, sparking outrage from anti-gambling groups and league fans in general.

The NRL was so concerned about Mr Waterhouse's appearances it raised the matter directly with Channel Nine, a parliamentary inquiry heard this morning.

Giving evidence before the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform, NRL strategic projects general manager Shane Mattiske said the Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports, of which the NRL is a member, agreed there needed to be a clear distinction between commentary and the promotion of betting odds.

He conceded Channel Nine's use of Mr Waterhouse was not in the spirit of this agreement.

"We don't want to see sports gambling inter-woven in the match itself," Mr Mattiske told the committee, which is examining advertising and promotion of gambling services in sport

"It's plain in the first rounds of the competition the lines were a little blurred."

Mr Mattiske said Channel Nine had agreed to tweak its use of Mr Waterhouse, who no longer interacts with commentators during the broadcast, and only appears on screen by himself in front of an advertising backdrop and accompanying "super graphic".

Under questioning from Senator Nick Xenophon, Mr Mattiske said contrary to media reports, the NRL had not struck a sponsorship deal with Mr Waterhouse.

He confirmed the NRL was in active negotiations with the bookmaker.

While the figures being discussed were "significant", he said the estimates of a $50 million deal were "exaggerated".

Mr Mattiske also denied the NRL's attempts to clamp down on match-fixing were compromised by lucrative gambling sponsorship deals, pointing to the recently established integrity unit as proof the league was serious about the issue.

"The integrity of our game is the primary focus," he said.

It was a point repeated by NRL media and communications manager John Brady, who said having the right policies in place removed the conflict of interest.

Mr Mattiske also argued gambling sponsorship was only a small component of the NRL's revenue stream.

Of the NRL's $170 million revenue last year gambling sponsorship accounted for $4 million, he said.

A representative from Channel Nine is scheduled to appear this afternoon.

Committee chair Andrew Wilkie said Mr Waterhouse was invited to appear before the inquiry today but was unable to attend.

More to come.


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