Nine and Foxtel agree to return of 20-round NRL competition, but payment details remain unresolved

The argy-bargy between the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and its television broadcast partners, Nine and Foxtel, has reached a partial resolution, with the National Ruby League (NRL) competition set to return on 28 May with a 20-round season.

Exact details, however, including how much the broadcasters will pay for the altered season, remain unresolved.

Mumbrella understands the television partners don’t want to overpay for the competition – particularly when it is unlikely to be able to showcase the atmosphere generated by live crowds.

The NRL will be back in one month’s time

The sporting body and Nine had been at loggerheads over the timing and format of the competition’s return, with Nine going as far as accusing the ARLC of wasting large sums of money over many years.

The broadcast of the NRL’s return is further complicated by the ICC (International Cricket Council) T20 World Cup due to take place in October, which Nine also holds the rights to. The NRL’s State of Origin – a series of three NRL matches between a NSW and Queensland team – also generally takes place throughout winter.

The new agreement between the broadcasters and the ARLC will see teams play five opposition clubs twice before a normal final series takes place. The two rounds played in March, before it became untenable due to the COVID-19 crisis, will count towards the competition.

It’s likely the State of Origin series will run across a concentrated three-week period in November.

The ARLC said the NRL will work with federal and state governments for player travel between borders, and insisted the conditions are safe.

“Our players will be safer under our protocols than they would be as regular members of the community,” ARLC chair Peter V’landys said. “It is safer now to play than it was in round two when we were playing. The daily infection rate in NSW was 25.79% when the game was last played. It has now been less than 1% in NSW for the last 18 days and is continuing to drop. There has also been a significant improvement in the recovery rate, being 75% in NSW and 83% in Australia.”

As for if and when crowds can return, the NRL said this won’t be known until later in the season.

Despite the challenges remaining and the details which still need to be ironed out, the ARLC said it was a landmark day for rugby league.

“This is a great outcome for our players, fans, partners and stakeholders. and I’m extremely appreciative for the cooperation and support from Hugh Marks [CEO of Nine] and Patrick Delany [CEO of Foxtel],” V’landys said. “Both have always acted in good spirit and have demonstrated how partners work together.”

In lieu of new NRL matches, Nine has been broadcasting reruns of old classic matches, under the title The Greatest.

In early March, the NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos had an overnight metro audience of 433,000 on Nine. Its national free-to-air (FTA) audience was 715,000. On Foxtel, on the same night, the match had a national audience of 254,000, while the Canberra Raiders and Gold Coast Titans had 155,000. A Sunday match between the Melbourne Storm and Many Sea Eagles had a metro audience of 236,000 on Nine, and a national FTA total of 474,000.  Foxtel drew 235,000 for the match, while the St George Illawarra Dragons taking on the Wests Tigers had 217.000.


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