In August the NRL awarded the Nine Network exclusive broadcast rights to 4 weekly NRL Premiership Games from 2018. At the time, the now former NRL CEO Dave Smith said “…there will be more live and free Rugby League on television – and that is what the fans want.” This agreement with Nine blindsided incumbent NRL media partners Fox Sports Australia and Telstra.
Since then there has been much speculation as to whether the deal with Nine would affect the value of the NRL’s remaining pay-TV and digital rights, in particular, would Fox Sports return to the negotiating table to acquire some pay-TV rights and would Nine on-sell its now-exclusive Saturday night game (from 2018) to Fox Sports.
After much machinations, including supposed interest from new sports rights player Singtel’s Optus, the NRL has announced a new deal for 2018 to 2022, with Nine, News Corp Australia, Fox Sports and Telstra. This new deal re-shapes Nine’s deal that was announced by Mr Smith in August. The new deal will result in changes to the weekly scheduling of matches and some of these changes will take effect from next year.
The key details of the new deal, are as follows:
- regular season matches will be held five days a week in 2016 – from Thursday to Monday inclusive – before reverting to four days a week (Thursday to Sunday) in 2017;
- from 2017 the Monday night game will be moved to Friday at 6pm (the match will air on Fox Sports);
- Nine will telecast games live and free-to-air on Thursday and Friday nights and Sunday afternoon from 2016;
- Fox Sports will show all eight games live every round (like Fox Footy does for the AFL) – including five exclusive telecasts each weekend. Super Saturday, featuring three live games, will be retained by Fox Sports, except for the last five Saturday night games of each season which will be telecast on Fox Sports and Nine;
- from 2017 Fox Sports will run a dedicated Rugby League channel (in the same fashion as AFL-only Fox Footy);
- News Corp Australia will use its local media and newspaper resources to promote the game wherever it is played;
- Telstra will remain the naming rights partner of the NRL and will telecast the game digitally on its mobile network as well as replays and highlights on its new Telstra TV platform from 2016; and
- Nine retains State of Origin broadcast rights.
The status quo essentially remains the same for viewers, except under the new deal all free-to-air games will be broadcast live, plus free-to-air viewers will be able to watch an additional five Saturday night games per year in the lead up to each final series (these games have previously been exclusive to Fox Sports). For die-hard rugby league fans, you will now be able to watch all weekly premiership matches on Fox Sports LIVE on a dedicated Rugby League channel from 2017.
News Corp Australia chief executive Peter Tonagh said:
“This is a truly outstanding deal that will, for the first time in the history of the game, give fans live coverage of every game each round.”
With the NRL and AFL broadcast rights now locked away into the next decade, it will be some time now before we see a large media rights deal negotiated again for the Australian market.
What this new media rights deal with the NRL shows is that while News Corp Australia (which wholly owns Fox Sports) is no longer a shareholder of the National Rugby League, its involvement in the sport is still a critical element for the NRL’s success, survival and growth in Australia.