According to multiple sources, Nine chief executive Hugh Marks has made it clear to the NRL that club and Origin matches played without crowds are considered an inferior product and, as a less attractive television spectacle, have a lower value.
Sources say that Foxtel has not raised a problem with the absence of crowds in its talks with League Central. But the subscription television provider is still expected to bargain for a reduced fee, particularly if plans to restart the season next month don’t come off and it ends up having to run deep into spring and even summer.
Foxtel and Nine, which owns this masthead, have indicated to the NRL that a later finish to the season is another factor that reduces the value of their broadcast rights, mainly because of clashes with other sports.
Broadcasters will already pay discounted amounts if there are less rounds played than under the terms of the contracts they signed in 2015 and which became active for the 2018 season.
But a tussle looms over the final figures that should be paid by Nine and Foxtel, who didn’t make their latest quarterly instalments last week after the season was suspended.
The NRL will argue that if matches are being played it should be paid the $13 million a round it generally receives, but it is bracing for robust negotiations, particularly with Nine, which wants a new agreement now that the game is not delivering on its contract as a result of COVID-19.
Contacted on Wednesday, ARLC chairman Peter V’landys said discussions with the broadcasters were commercially sensitive.
“All I can say is that I’m extremely confident both our broadcast partners will be happy,” V’landys said.
“Hugh is a good man. He’s a very good CEO. He’s looking after Channel Nine’s interests. I’m looking after the NRL’s. We’ll meet somewhere where we’re both happy.”