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Nine and Foxtel reportedly seeking A$58m cut in NRL fees

Australian broadcasters Foxtel and Nine are seeking reductions in their rights fees for the NRL this year of between 16 per cent and 24 per cent, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The NRL is set to resume its 2020 season on May 28, and is aiming to complete 20 rounds in the regular season, with the Grand Final on October 25. The 20 rounds include two completed earlier this year before the Covid-19 stoppage, and represents a reduction from the usual 24-round regular season.

The league is in talks with the broadcasters to decide what this means for the value of their media-rights deals, which cover the 2018 to 2022 seasons. The broadcasters did not make rights fee payments due on May 28, due to the stoppage. As part of the talks, the broadcasters are pushing for three-year extensions to their deals.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that free-to-air broadcaster Nine is looking to pay a reduced media rights fee of A$90m ($59m/€54m) this year, down 24 per cent from the scheduled A$118m. Nine and the Sydney Morning Herald are part of the same media group, called Nine, created after a merger of the broadcaster and publisher Fairfax Media in 2018.

Nine’s deal for the NRL rights is worth a total of A$575m over the five years from 2018 to 2022. The Herald says the fee payments are “slightly back-ended”. The broadcaster shows live coverage of three games per week during the regular season, live coverage of the finals series, and has exclusive live rights for the State of Origin series and the Grand Final.

Nine’s scheduled 2020 NRL media-rights fee splits down as A$80.24m (68 per cent) for the regular season, and A$37.76m (32 per cent) for the Finals and annual State of Origin series. Nine has already paid A$38.5m of this year’s fee, including A$10m that was paid as part of a loan made to the league in 2018. This leaves it with $79.5m to pay this year. The broadcaster wants to pay just A$52.5m.

Nine thinks that the calendar rejig will reduce its ability to earn advertising revenue around the NRL content, with one of the issues being a clash with the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup hosted in Australia in October and November. Nine wanted the NRL to play a maximum of 17 rounds and does not want to pay for matches after the original October 4 Grand Final date.

The State of Origin series is being moved from June/July to November.

The Herald reported that Fox was originally due to pay A$190m this year, and now wants to pay A$160m, a 16-per-cent reduction. Fox’s deal is worth a total of A$990m over the 2018-22 cycle. It shows all eight weekly regular-season games, simulcasting Nine’s matches using the commercial broadcaster’s feed.

Nine is reported to be keen to stick to the original payment schedule, with the next instalment due on July 1, for reasons related to financial reporting.

NRL’s plan to resume the season was unveiled on Tuesday. Peter V’landys, who chairs the Australian Rugby League Commission, the body that oversees the NRL, thanked Nine chief executive Hugh Marks and Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany for backing the return.

“Today is a landmark day for rugby league in 2020,” V’landys said. “This is a great outcome for our players, fans, partners and stakeholders and I’m extremely appreciative for the cooperation and support from Hugh Marks and Patrick Delany. Both have always acted in good-spirit and have demonstrated how partners work together.”

The league has introduced biosecurity measures that it has christened ‘Project Apollo Protocols’ to protect players, club officials and other staff. The name arises from the name given to the project to restart the league. The protocols are more stringent that current public health guidelines in Australia, and the league has promised punishments for infringements.

New Zealand’s sole representative team in the league, the New Zealand Warriors, will take part, after serving a 14-day quarantine in Australia, where they will arrive this weekend.