Fox Sports have scored another victory over Channel Nine in the battle for Rugby League hearts and minds with the signing of talented host Yvonne Sampson on a multi-year deal. Sampson had a real rise to prominence last season at Channel Nine as host of several of the games showpieces. Her knowledge of the game, as well as her personable and calm on air demeanour, elevated her to hosting duties on some of the game's biggest stages including the NRL Grand Final, State Of Origin and The Sunday Footy Show.
I would have thought retaining Sampson would have been high on the agenda in terms of retention at Nine, however reports of massive pay discrepancies between male and female sports reporters at Nine might have been at the centre of her move to Fox Sports. While you have to admire the work Erin Molan does at Channel 9, she doesn't have anywhere near the same presence and comfort in pulling together a panel of star ex-footballers like Andrew Johns, Brad Fittler and the grisly bear that is Phil Gould these days.
Sampson seemed to me to be the one ace Channel 9 had up their sleeve in their stale and outdated coverage of Rugby League. With Fox Sports launching their full time Rugby League Channel in February, expect Sampson to be front and centre of some of their panel shows and live match coverage. To go with the best two callers in the game in Andrew Voss and Warren Smith, Fox appear to be building an arsenal of the game's best media talent. Experienced duo Matt Johns and Greg Alexander are off set by recently retired players turned analysts in Braith Anasta and Mark Gasnier. Both Gasnier and Anasta have improved immeasurably in just a short time in front of the camera and have considerable potential going forward. I get the impression Fox Sports are about to take their Rugby League coverage by up another notch in 2017 as they look for an even greater share of the market.
Whilst Channel 9's cricket coverage has come under scrutiny in recent years, they have a relative monopoly over the market at least when it comes to the Australian Test and ODI side. However, with Rugby League I would be very surprised if the people with Fox Sports subscriptions would even consider watching Channel Nine's NRL coverage when given the choice between the two in 2017.