Fox Sports homes in on new NRL rights deal – reports

The National Rugby League, operators of the sport’s top competition in Australia, is set to unveil a new rights agreement with pay-television broadcaster Fox Sports, according to multiple reports today (Thursday).

The Fairfax Media news agency said News Corp-owned Fox Sports is believed to have acquired the rights to the NRL’s showpiece Saturday night game from commercial broadcaster Nine, the league’s free-to-air rights holder, for around A$175m (€118.6m/$125.8m)  as part of a five-year deal.

In August, Nine retained domestic rights for the NRL in a deal that doubled the value of its free-to-air rights fee for the league. The agreement was worth A$185m per season over five years, from 2018 to 2022.

However, Fox Sports was cast aside from the talks and has since co-signed a six-year A$2.5bn deal with commercial broadcaster Seven and digital provider Telstra for domestic rights to Aussie rules competition the AFL. That agreement left the NRL’s pay-television and digital rights yet to be settled, with the league facing a battle to match the record deal struck by the AFL.

Fairfax Media said the Saturday game is seen as crucial for Fox Sports so that it can maintain exclusivity over NRL games played on that day. The news agency added that Nine was previously prepared to sell back the game for A$40m per year, while Fox Sports was prepared to pay A$30m. It is understood the two parties have agreed a deal valued at around A$35m.

In a statement to the stock market today, Nine Entertainment Corporation said: “NEC confirms that it is in discussions with the ARLC and Fox Sports about a potential variation to NEC’s rights to broadcast NRL matches. No agreement has been reached on any transaction. Should an agreement be reached, NEC will make an appropriate announcement to the market in accordance with its disclosure obligations.”