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NRL reaches out to broadcasters over Premiership return after Nine hits out

Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) has today (Thursday) said it will hold talks with aggrieved rights-holder, free-to-air commercial broadcaster Nine, after laying out a plan for the Premiership to recommence its 2020 season on May 28.

The NRL’s announcement came after Nine issued a scathing rebuke of the League’s governance, questioning its investment in the sport.

Project Apollo, the body which has been planning the NRL’s resumption amid the Covid-19 pandemic, today recommended that the Premiership resumes on May 28, State of Origin be played in a standard three-game format, and the NRL Grand Final continue to be played in Sydney as a standard one game format.

On March 23, the NRL followed the Australian Football League (AFL) in suspending its 2020 season amid the Covid-19 outbreak, with officials stating the sport was set to face the biggest financial crisis in its history. The League today said it will continue to work with governments in Queensland, Victoria and New Zealand about what restrictions may look like at the end of May.

However, Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chair, Peter V’landys, said, based on current advice and government approvals, the competition was ready to commence on May 28, adding he was confident it can avoid the “catastrophic” consequences initially projected.

Earlier today, Nine had issued a statement reading: “At Nine we had hoped to work with the NRL on a solution to the issues facing rugby league in 2020, brought on so starkly by Covid-19. But this health crisis in our community has highlighted the mismanagement of the code over many years.

“Nine has invested hundreds of millions in this game over decades and we now find they have profoundly wasted those funds with very little to fall back on to support the clubs, the players and supporters. In the past the NRL have had problems and we’ve bailed them out many times. Including a A$50m ($31.1m/€28.6m) loan to support clubs when the last contract was signed.

“It would now appear that much of that has been squandered by a bloated head office completely ignoring the needs of the clubs, players and supporters. We now find ourselves with a contract that is unfulfilled by the code. We hoped we could talk through a long-term plan.”

Responding to Nine’s statement, V’landys said he will now consult with both Nine and Fox Sports following the publication of the resumption masterplan. He stated: “We need to speak to our broadcast partners, which we will be doing as quickly as we can. We want to come to an arrangement with them so they’re happy.”

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.

The NRL last month agreed on a recovery plan with its clubs relating to the impact of Covid-19 on its 2020 Premiership season.