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Nine holds ‘constructive’ NRL rights meeting, code secures A$250m credit line

Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chair Peter V’landys has been encouraged by a “constructive and cooperative” meeting with Hugh Marks, chief executive of free-to-air commercial broadcaster Nine, over the proposed rescheduling of the NRL season and a possible reworking of the two parties’ broadcast deal.

The meeting coincided with the news that the league has struck a deal for a A$250m ($158m/€145m) credit line from a group of London banks and financial institutions.

The ARLC last week laid out a plan for the NRL’s Premiership to return on May 28, with its announcement coming after Nine had issued a scathing rebuke of the League’s governance.

Nine last week criticised the governance of the competition, stating that it had been hoping to work with the NRL on a solution to the issues facing the sport in 2020. Nine said the Covid-19 health crisis has “highlighted the mismanagement of the code over many years”.

V’landys subsequently said that he would consult with both Nine and fellow domestic rights-holder Fox Sports following the publication of the resumption masterplan. Having met with Marks this week, V’landys said he was “buoyed” by Marks’ support of rugby league and his commitment to the game.

He added: “The meeting provided us with the opportunity to outline our positions and discuss next steps to navigate this crisis. We are both focused on the long-term success of the game and while there is more work to do, I am optimistic we will find a way through this together.

“Our next meeting, where we will endeavour to construct a road map for the game this year, must include Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany.”

The NRL has been suspended since March 23 due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Officials stated at the time that the sport was set to face the biggest financial crisis in its history, but V’landys (pictured) said last week that he was confident the League can avoid the “catastrophic” consequences initially projected.

Rights to the NRL were acquired in November 2015 by pay-television broadcaster Fox Sports and telco Telstra under a five-year contract running from 2018 to 2022. In August 2015, Nine retained domestic free-to-air rights for the NRL in a deal worth A$185m per season over the five-year cycle.

It is claimed that Nine is keen to secure two exclusive games per round as part of an extended deal with the NRL. The Sydney Morning Herald, citing sources close to negotiations, reported that Nine would like to give up its Thursday night coverage and instead focus on the Friday night and Sunday afternoon slots.

The report added that Nine has expressed a preference for wiping the 2020 season completely as opposed to restarting the competition next month.

The A$250m loan from British banks has been brokered by London firm Oakwell Sports Advisory. It means the NRL will be less reliant on broadcast rights revenue in the short term.

The money is expected to be drawn down by the sport’s governing body and distributed to NRL clubs in the next few weeks. The loan amount will be secured against future broadcast and sponsorship rights income as opposed to a particular asset, reports The Australian.

The details of the banks involved have not been made public.