NRL opens dialogue over TV rights but experts predict a bidding war is unlikely to materialise

nrl logoA bidding war for the rights to broadcast NRL matches beyond 2017 is unlikely to materialise, with Nine and Fox Sports tipped to retain coverage without the need to break the bank, according to industry experts.

Reports emerged over the weekend that Australian Rugby League Commission chief executive David Smith has signalled his intention to open dialogue with existing media partners, along with Seven and Ten, as the code looks to create a competitive bidding process.

The last NRL TV contract, in 2012, saw Nine and Fox Sports pay $1.025b – $925m in cash and $100m in advertising – for a five year deal.

NRL officials are understood to be wanting a significantly enhanced deal, and have tabled the prospect of splitting the State of Origin and selling the flagship three-match series as a separate asset.

Jack Lamacraft, general manager of M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment, described the early move by the NRL to open negotiations as smart, but warned the sport’s administrators to expect a low-key response.

“It’s an interesting one, and the NRL have been smart by entering into negotiations now in order to give the other networks the time to do the due diligence around the opportunity, but I can’t really see Seven making a serious bid unless they drop something else,” he said.

“With the AFL, Australian Open and Melbourne Cup already in their portfolio there isn’t going to be a lot of spare cash knocking about. It depends what happens with the AFL deal too, as I can’t see them having both the AFL and NRL as the sports compete with each other.”



Scheduling would work for Ten, as coverage of its major sports event, Big Bash cricket and V8 Supercars, would not clash. But while Ten has previously expressed an interest in the NRL it is doubtful whether Ten would have sufficient resources, Lamacraft said.

“I’m not sure they have the budget to make a serious bid,” he said. “I can’t see the NRL leaving Nine. And with regards to the State of Origin, whoever buys the rights for the regular season will want this as part of the deal as it’s the jewel in the NRL crown.”

The second match in last year’s State of Origin series, where NSW took the title back from Qld after eight years, drew a metro audience of 2.682m, topped only by AFL Grand Final last year which had 2.813m viewers, underscoring the importance of these marquee sporting events to TV broadcasters.

But media analyst Steve Allen also questioned the appetite among Seven and Ten executives to launch serious offers that would spark the bidding war the NRL craves.

He predicted any increase would be “minor”, arguing Seven’s priority would be hanging on to the AFL. Given the intense competition between the codes it is highly doubtful the network would have the rights for both sports, he said.

Ten, meanwhile, is unlikely to have the financial firepower to compete, Allen said.

“They are not sitting on a bunch of cash,” he observed.

The networks remained cagey, with Nine declining to comment on the forthcoming negotiations. Seven, Ten and Fox Sports had not returned calls at time of publication.

It is regarded as inconceivable that Nine would not dig deep to retain the rights, should it have to.

Nine chief executive David Gyngell described rugby league as part of the company’s “heritage” when the 2012 contract was signed.

“It’s one of the many things we do best, and it is pivotal to our position as the biggest television brand in the nation,” he said.

Steve Jones


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