Concerns Over NRL’s New Broadcasting Deal

It would be very easy to look at the NRL’s newly announced broadcasting deal with Channel 9 and be blinded by the figures.

Channel 9 currently pays $90 million per year to broadcast 3 NRL matches per round, as well as the finals series, and representative fixtures. The newly announced deal that kicks off in 2018 is worth $185 million to broadcast four live games per round, along with the finals series, and representative fixtures.

Importantly, the new deal also gives Channel 9 the digital broadcasting rights. This, in my opinion, makes this a very sweet deal for Channel 9 and one that I fear could be a real thorn in the side of the NRL by the time the next broadcasting deal reaches its conclusion.

The NRL has wrestled back the ability to set its own season schedule without having to sit down with broadcasters and work out who wants what game, but at what cost?

There is no doubt that this will allow the NRL to put together a better draw, one that will give all clubs a more even amount of exposure and cut out some of the ridiculous scheduling issues that have hurt players and clubs in recent years, but even players are said to be dismayed that their concerns over the length of the season have not been taken into account.

The deal surrounding State Of Origin games looks like a complete mess to me. Games one and three will be played on a Wednesday night, but game two will be played on a Sunday night with “Pacific Tests” to be played on the same weekend. It seems like a shake up to the continuity of the series that simply wasn’t needed. No doubt the current schedule had its flaws, but this set up looks no better to me.

Worst still, the mid season test match between Australia and New Zealand has been completely scrapped with a very vague “commitment” to an international window in October…something we have had in place for 107 years!

This means that rather than adding value to the Australian Kangaroos brand, the NRL has decided to mothball it during the course of each and every winter between 2018 and 2023. A completely ridiculous decision that flies in the face of sports broadcasting across the world.

This effectively means that Australian Rugby League has set itself apart from the rest of the Rugby League playing world. Our players are now simply too important to go playing Rugby League test matches during the Rugby League season. It is ironic that this decision has been made just as the New Zealand Rugby League team keeps handing Australia its own arse.

All eyes will now turn to Foxtel and it will be interesting to see how they respond to losing one game per week to Channel 9. Fox Sports “Super Saturday” now lies in ruins and you would think that the only way Foxtel can salvage a top class selling point for its NRL coverage going forward is to pay a lot of money to the NRL for exclusive rights to the four remaining games, as well as the right to simulcast the four Channel 9 games live on Fox Sports.

If Foxtel does manage to make that deal with the NRL they can at least sell themselves as the only place where you can see every NRL game live. It must be pointed out however that if Fox Sports does end up with a deal like this, the money Channel 9 will be paying for its share of the broadcasting deal will be lowered. That is one hell of a gamble on the NRL’s behalf.

Keep in mind that Foxtel is half owned by Telstra. Telstra has held the NRL’s digital distribution rights to NRL games for a number of years now. They have been able to fold the ownership of those rights into their Pay TV arm, and you could watch games broadcast on Fox Sports over the internet at no extra cost if you had a Fox Sports subscription.

While Telstra may be able to negotiate with Channel 9 for a similar set up from 2018 onward, the loss of those rights leaves Foxtel and Fox Sports with less value in the end product they are looking to negotiate for in the near future. That will have an effect on the amount of money they end up paying for their share of their broadcasting deal.

So, with all of this in mind, and knowing that more deals will be announced in the future, why do I have concerns over what we already know from the NRL’s future broadcasting deal?

First of all, the fact that the season was not cut back to around 22 rounds is an issue. Right now we play too many club games. Too many games just don’t hold any value during the regular season. A club shouldn’t be able to have two terrible months during the season and still be able to comfortably make the finals. There isn’t enough at stake during most regular season fixtures and that will remain the case for years to come.

There has been no firm commitment to expand the NRL, despite the need for the game to have a second team in Brisbane and a team based in Perth. When you consider that both expansions would be ideal for broadcasters to take advantage of, the fact that no expansion plans were announced says to me we will be lucky to see the league expand again within the next decade. Once again, that is extremely disappointing.

When you look back at all of the talk of plans being put in place to shake up the season, the hope that the NRL was looking to modernize the schedule and set up a bright new framework for the game heading forward, you cant help but be disappointing by yesterdays announcement.

It seems that Shane Richardsons “think tank” went away and came back with the plan of “Lets do the same shit we’ve been doing for years, but lets ditch the ANZAC Test match!”. Hardly inspiring…

So with no solid plans to expand the competition, a continuation of the long, drawn out club season, the digital rights being locked up by a broadcaster that is so up to date with technology that they still broadcast games in Standard Definition, and less Test matches to look forward to, you could say I was extremely disappointed by the announcement on Monday afternoon.

Yes it is a lot of money for part of the NRL’s broadcasting right, but at the end of the day the NRL still needs Fox Sports to come to the party if this deal is going to be a financial success.

The last time Foxel was pushed into a desperate position by Rugby League administrators we ended up having The Super League War.

I wouldn’t put it past the jokers who run NRL clubs these days to be sitting by their phones already, just waiting for a call…

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