NRL Independent commission chairman Peter V’landys. Picture: Jonathan Ng
NRL Independent commission chairman Peter V’landys. Picture: Jonathan Ng

Cash-strapped NRL on verge of record $2.3b payday

The cash-strapped NRL is just days away from securing a stunning new TV broadcast deal worth up to $2.3 billion, the richest in Australia's sporting history.

The Sunday Telegraph can reveal Channel 9 and Fox Sports are on the verge of agreeing to a lucrative seven-year contract that will lift rugby league from a financial scrapheap, safeguard the game's long-term viability and guarantee the survival of all 16 clubs.

Independent commission chairman Peter V'landys is hoping to reach an agreement in principal by Friday for the remaining three years of the current contract plus a four-season extension until 2027.

It would be the most lucrative broadcast deal in the history of Australian sport, averaging out at almost $330 million a season - a remarkable outcome given the long-term global financial uncertainty over the COVID-19 crisis.

The contract will be heavily discounted for this season because of the reduction to 20 rounds although the NRL is expecting ratings to increase because fans cannot attend the venues.

After weeks of uncertainty over Channel 9's position with their free-to-air, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal the network has been forced back into negotiations with an improved offer because of a fierce public backlash over their threats to abandon the game.

It is a spectacular backflip after expressing a willingness to walk away from the sport last week.

"It's not a given that NRL has to be part of our future," Marks said.

The finer details of the match scheduling for both networks is still being thrashed out.

There would be scope in the new contract to adjust the figures if future expansion into Brisbane and other areas delivers more content.

V'landys was reluctant to comment yesterday because of confidentiality agreements with both Fox Sports boss Patrick Delany and Channel 9 chief executive Hugh Marks.


Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany.
Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany.

"Both partners have acted in great faith and I believe we're very close," V'landys said.

"Hopefully we'll have it finalised by next Friday. That's my aim.

"The loyalty factor has been important because you want to look after your partners who have been with the game for a long time."

The digital component of the deal and the future of the NRL website is still to be sorted.

Global Media and Sports boss Colin Smith has a long history in local and international broadcast deals. He says this is a great outcome for all parties.

"Peter V'landys has been the saviour of the NRL, no doubt for me," Smith said.

"In this climate, if you ask what represents a good broadcast deal, I would say anything from $300 million to $350m a year is an excellent result.

"V'landys is a master negotiator, he is a street fighter and he is not afraid to take the bull by the horns. He looks at the outcome and he actually delivers on it.


Nine Entertainment CEO Hugh Marks. Picture: Joel Carrett
Nine Entertainment CEO Hugh Marks. Picture: Joel Carrett

"Seriously, if Peter can achieve in excess of $300 million, that is fantastic."

The new TV contract will allow the NRL to establish a seven-year strategic plan, including grassroots development, long-term investments, possible expansion and a stadium policy for Sydney's nine clubs.

V'landys has vowed to slash $50 million in costs from NRL headquarters and put spending restrictions in place for coaching, sports science and general football expenditure at the clubs.

This will allow the game rebuild from its 'catastrophic' financial crisis and ensure money is available from the new television deal to invest $500 million from the new deal over the next seven years.


Originally published as Cash-strapped NRL on verge of record $2.3b payday