NRL Clubs Consider Shutting The Door On Foxtel

Rugby League holds 73 of the most watched 100 programs on Australian Pay Television. It is an industry that was formed on the foundation of Rugby League in this country.

Today, Roy Masters has written an explosive article in the Sydney Morning Herald titled Clubs’ ploy to abandon Foxtel to get rights value. Go and read it because my entire article will feed off of the information you will read in Roys article.

If Foxtel lost all its Rugby League content, it would be a devastating blow the to Pay TV network. The entire Super League War was fought so that Foxtel could offer Rugby League content and establish itself in the NSW and Queensland television markets.

In its deal to leave the sport in the hands of an Independent Commission, News Limited has said it would sign a “non compete” clause which would mean it wouldn’t set up a rival Rugby League competition, just like Super League, for at least five years.

That is where a three year deal is genius.

By offering Rugby League rights only to Free To Air television stations for just three years, the NRL would be gambling on two things.

The first is that they could draw enough ratings and commercial interest to the stations broadcasting Rugby League that it would put the game in a stronger position to negotiate its TV deal than it is in right now.

Basically, the NRL would be backing itself while at the same time saying to FTA stations “It will cost you a lot of money, but its only for three years”. This cuts down the commitment that FTA stations would have to make to what would be such a ridicule move. It also is a chance for FTA stations to make a major blow to Pay TV, which is something they would love to do.

The other big gamble is that, without Rugby League content to offer subscribers in NSW and QLD, you would see thousands of people cancel their Foxtel subscriptions. Committing to such a move for five years would be industry changing. It could possibly devastate the Pay TV industry in Australia. Thats a big move that is hard to see happening to be honest.

For only three years though, knowing how keen FTA stations would be to take the gamble and try to strike a hammer blow to Pay TV….and knowing in three years time the NRL could come back to Foxtel and say “See how valuable we are?” it is probably way too big of a gamble for Foxtel to even take. They would simply have to offer Rugby League what it was really worth to their industry.

Right now you know a few things will be going on behind the scenes.

Channel 7 will be looking at how it could juggle some Rugby League coverage into its already over flowing AFL coverage it just brought. It would be almost impossible I think, however I also think that Channel 7 would love to strioke back at Foxtel after the closure of its own Pay TV Sports stations C7 Sport a number of years ago.

Channel 9, who continues to screw Rugby League over at every chance it can get, will be trying to position itself to be in the box seat to get the games it wants. They have plenty of room for more Rugby League coverage, the big question is, are they ready to step up to that bigger commitment and pay the huge price it would take for three years.

Channel 10 is interesting as its owners also have an interest in Pay TV in Australia through Fox Sports. Channel 10 have a Sports channel of its own in One HD. This would be the perfect vehicle for the NRL in normal circumstances and if Channel 10 could afford the rights, having the NRL on One HD could be a boom for Channel 10 overall.

However, why would some of Channel 10’s owners pay for the entire NRL TV rights, even if its only for three years, if that means they completely devastate another their investments in Foxtel and Fox Sports. It would make no sense.

Obviously the threat is enough to bring Foxtel to the table. They just can not afford to lose the market they have built in NSW and QLD. Everyone I know that pays $100 for Foxtel every months would cancel their subscriptions tomorrow if the NRL was not part of the entertainment Foxtel offered.

The final figure that I think would tip a three year, full FTA deal over the edge to going ahead would be this.

If the figure paid by FTA stations for the entire Rugby League rights package would be offset by the sponsorship they could sell during the showing of all that content, you might find that the deal is a goer!

Could we see Channel 7 start a Free To Air Sports channel that is based around similar Rugby League coverage that Fox Sports has offered over the last decade or so? I can’t see Channel 9 or 10 going down that rout, but Channel 7 has tried in the past through Pay TV, and I could see them considering a move now through their extra digital channels that don’t offer a great deal at the moment.

What ever happens at the end of the day, just the threat that the NRL is willing to look at signing a three year broadcasting deal and shutting out Foxtel completely signals the NRL’s intent that the gloves are well and truly off.

The Independent Commission, who will ultimately make the decision, has been formed, but not signed off on just yet. That will happen, and we will see the old ARL completely dissolved and News Limited will leave the game in its capacity as an owner of the NRL. Even so, the political games are still being played right up to those papers being signed and the RLIC taking full control of the game.

What do I expect to happen?

I think Foxtel will come to the table with an offer that will be better than what they offered the AFL. They simply have to. They can not afford to offer the NRL less and see tens of thousands of subscribers in NSW and QLD leave their service.

As for the Free To Air TV channels, I think they will look to gain more of the coverage than they have no. I think we will see Monday Night Football on Channel 10, I think Channel 9’s coverage will be very similar to what it is now, and Channel 7, who will have driven the price of the club competition through the roof at this point, will be happy to “settle” for State Of Origin coverage.

Time will tell…

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