Nine and Foxtel play hardball with NRL over season reboot

Rugby league’s broadcasters are playing hardball about the rest of the season being staged behind closed doors and potentially extending beyond early October, arguing it’s not the premium product they signed up for.

NRL powerbrokers are eager to get the competition up and running again as quickly as possible and an innovation committee headed by former Balmain captain Wayne Pearce will put a recommendation to the ARL Commission on Thursday that includes a May restart.

Channel Nine believes games played with no crowds provide an inferior product.Credit:Getty

The NRL will argue that if matches are being played it should be paid the $13 million a round it generally receives, but it is bracing for robust negotiations, particularly with Nine, which wants a new agreement now that the game is not delivering on its contract as a result of COVID-19.

Contacted on Wednesday, ARLC chairman Peter V’landys said discussions with the broadcasters were commercially sensitive.

“All I can say is that I’m extremely confident both our broadcast partners will be happy,” V'landys said.

“Hugh is a good man. He’s a very good CEO. He’s looking after Channel Nine’s interests. I’m looking after the NRL’s. We’ll meet somewhere where we’re both happy.”

ARLC chairman Peter V’landys.Credit:Getty

A Nine spokeswoman declined to comment and Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany did not return calls.

Foxtel’s deal with the NRL is worth about $200m a year, while Nine announced to the stock exchange last week it would save $130m this year if the remainder of the league season was abandoned.

While there was an expectation television ratings would increase when NRL games were closed to crowds for round two, they actually went down marginally from 2.63m to 2.6m across the two broadcasters, with Fox Sports up from round one and Nine down.

Foxtel, which has made 200 employees redundant this week and stood down another 140, is desperate for content to retain subscribers but it also has heavy cricket commitments during summer and could also have the AFL running well beyond its schedule deeper into the year.

Nine also has some cricket still on its books. It is due to televise the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia, which is set down for October 18 to November 15, although it is far from a certainty to go ahead despite the planning of organisers to isolate and quarantine players.

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