NRL ‘close’ to three-year broadcast extension with Fox and Nine

Australia’s National Rugby League is close to a renegotiation and extension of its domestic media-rights deals with pay-television operator Foxtel and commercial free-to-air broadcaster Nine, according to local sources.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the new deals will be worth less than the A$323m ($203m/€187m) per year generated by the existing deals, which cover the five years from 2018 to 2022. The extensions will cover three additional years, 2023 to 2025.

The NRL also has a digital rights deal with telco Telstra covering the 2018 to 2022 period – there is no indication that this deal is being renegotiated.

It is reported that the league was willing to commit to deals with lower rights fees in order to secure its long-term financial viability, and would be cutting costs, including at its “bloated head office”. Clubs’ income of A$13m per year is set to be maintained. The broadcasters are reported to want the clubs have more power, in a more “decentralised” league.

Nine has been sharply critical of the NRL’s governance since the Covid-19 breakout, saying the crisis has “highlighted the mismanagement of the code over many years”.

This week, the NRL’s chief executive Todd Greenberg stepped down.

The NRL has been suspended since March 23. There are tentative talks about a comeback on May 28, but nothing has been confirmed.

In October, Peter V’Landys, chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission, which oversees the league, had said it was “critical” that it maintained its media rights income in upcoming renewal talks. The Covid-19 pandemic has blown that ambition out of the water.

The league recently struck a deal for a A$250m credit line from a group of London banks and financial institutions.

Foxtel had been under financial pressure prior to the pandemic, and is now in an even tougher position. Two weeks ago, it laid off 200 staff.

The Sydney Morning Herald also reported yesterday that Rugby Australia was hoping to reopen its talks for a new domestic media rights deal towards the end of the second quarter.