NRL TV negotiations up in the air as CEO Dave Smith quits amid pressure from News Corp

The future of the NRL TV rights deal looks to be up in the air as the CEO of the sports code Dave Smith has quit midway through the negotiations.

Dave Smith

Out: Dave Smith

Smith has been under pressure since announcing he had completed a deal with Network Nine for the free-to-air TV rights for the code, which included giving some of Fox Sport’s top rating matches to Nine.

That led to a concerted attack on Smith by News Corp papers claiming the code would not make its $1.7bn valuation for the rights as they had been devalued by that other part of the deal. NRL chairman John Grant has taken over as interim CEO.

Under the deal signed so far Nine has the rights to broadcast four premium live games a week on Thursday and Friday evening, Sunday afternoons, and the Saturday night games previously shown on Fox Sports, which also had its high rating Monday night match cut. Reports also emerged that Nine had negotiated for Fox Sports to have to broadcast their ads if they bought the rights to simulcast those games.

The five year deal from 2018 is worth $925m.

That led to more reports saying NRL clubs were unhappy with Smith’s handling of the negotiations amid speculation the code would not hit the expected $1.7bn valuation from broadcasters.

Days after the deal had been completed Fox Sports, Seven Network and Telstra unveiled a record $2.5bn deal with rival AFL with News Corp co-chairman Rupert Murdoch describing the code as “the premium code in Australia”, a not so veiled barb aimed at Smith and the NRL.

Nine’s Melbourne boss Ian Paterson told Mumbrella’s Sports Marketing Summit last month the network was not interested in doing a deal to swap an AFL game held by News Corp for one of the premium matches it had negotiated for NRL.

“We’ve got interests of course not just here in Melbourne, but Adelaide and Perth and you are talking AFL markets,” he said. “But there wasn’t the opportunity, put it that way, to secure something that we were satisfied with and that’s where it started and finished.”

However, Telstra has moved to quell speculation it would ditch its naming rights for the NRL premiership in recent weeks signalling it will look to tie up a new deal with the code, which would see content pushed out on its Telstra TV product released last week.

In a press conference this morning Smith said: “Rugby League has just finished another unbelievable year. (We have) signed the biggest TV deal in NRL history, one of the greatest NRL Grand Finals in NRL history, and increasing club memberships.”

“We have the right people with the right skills doing the right jobs. We are now financially robust. We are committed to connecting our fans closer to their teams.”

Alex Hayes and Nic Christensen 


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