Fox Sports NRL deal imminent as Nine confirms talks over sharing of rights

Barely three months after Rupert Murdoch claimed that AFL was the nation’s “premium code” and News Corp would throw all its weight behind the sport, the company appears set to lock in a deal with the NRL and Nine for its pay TV network Fox Sports.

Rupert Murdoch announcing the AFL deal described AFL as the nation’s “premium code”.

Sources have confirmed media reports in the Fairfax and News Corp newspapers that the contract between Nine, News Corp and the NRL could be signed as early as today, giving Fox Sports a vital piece of good news after losing the English Premier League rights to surprise bidder Optus earlier this month.

Nine Entertainment has also told the market in a statement this morning that discussions are advanced, but that no timing for announcement has been set.

“NEC confirms that it is discussions with the ARLC and Fox Sports about a potential variation to NEC’s rights to broadcast NRL matches,” the statement said.

“No agreement has been reached on any transaction. Should an agreement be reached, NEC will make an appropriate announcement to the market in accordance with its disclosure obligations.”

Sources expect the deal to be announced later today, although confirmation of final details could see the negotiations stretch into the weekend.

While Nine issued a statement to the market, News Corp has declined to comment.

News Corp is joint owner with Telstra of pay TV platform Foxtel, and fully owns the Fox Sports TV channel.

A successful agreement with Nine will see Fox Sports retain is flagship “Super Saturday” matches, said to be worth about $35 million a year for five years, while discussions are also centered on delivering a Friday night fixture for Fox Sports as well.

Closure of the agreement will value the total NRL broadcast rights at between $1.85 billion and $1.9 billion.

The deal will also see Nine’s costs for its rights reduced from about $925 million to about $650 million.

Although the AFL managed to seal a $2.5 billion deal for its rights, observers have suggested that the deal was inflated by the presence of Rupert Murdoch in Australia at the time.

“We’ve always believed this (AFL) is the premium code in Australia – it’s the national game,” Murdoch said in August.

“We believe in the strength of the game and we will do everything we can to make it stronger.”

His comments were understood to be partly predicated by Nine’s shock deal with the NRL which initially shut out News Corp and was seen as contributing to the resignation of NRL CEO Dave Smith.

Having an NRL package is vital for Fox Sports in NSW and Queensland.

Finalisation of the NRL deal will leave the way clear for News Corp and Fox Sports to shift their attention to Rugby Union, with negotiations with SANZAR currently underway.

An announcement on the Rugby Union Broadcast rights is expected next month.

Simon Canning


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