In a blistering statement, Nine said millions of dollars had been squandered over the years by “a bloated head office completely ignoring the needs of the clubs, players and supporters”.
“At Nine we had hoped to work with the NRL on a solution to the issues facing rugby league in 2020, brought on so starkly by COVID-19,” a spokeswoman said.
“But this health crisis in our community has highlighted the mismanagement of the code over many years. Nine has invested hundreds of millions in this game over decades and we now find they have profoundly wasted those funds with very little to fall back on.
“In the past the NRL have had problems and we’ve bailed them out many times including a $50m loan to support clubs when the last contract was signed. It would now appear that much of that has been squandered by a bloated head office completely ignoring the needs of the clubs, players and supporters.
“We now find ourselves with a contract that is unfulfilled by the code. We hoped we could talk though a long-term plan.”
In a conference call with clubs in the afternoon that preceded a meeting of the game’s commissioners, V’landys told CEOs he was confident of reaching common ground with broadcasters, albeit after a period of negotiation.
The NRL issued its own statement, saying “we are disappointed by Nine’s comments”.
“We are continuing to work on a number of scenarios for the 2020 season in consultation with all of our stakeholders including our broadcast partners,” the statement continued. “Our obligation is to resume the competition as soon as possible, within public health guidelines. No decisions have been made.”
V’landys told the Herald on Thursday night he would be speaking to Marks directly in an effort to reach a peace deal.
“If Hugh walks away unhappy and I walk away unhappy that means we’ve done a good deal,” V’landys said. “We value Channel Nine and Hugh Marks as our broadcast partner and I’ll do everything in my power to keep our broadcast partner happy.”
Asked about Nine’s criticism of the NRL’s spending, V’landys replied: “The cost structure of the game is unsustainable, and that’s the whole game, and we need to rectify that. The coronavirus has brought forward a car crash we were going to have at some time.”
V’landys said Greenberg’s job was safe. “Nothing has changed in my eyes at the moment. Todd is focused on the job ahead,” he said.
Neither Nine nor Foxtel had a place on the so-called Project Apollo innovation committee, which has been headed by former NSW captain Wayne Pearce and on Thursday made recommendations about the competition re-starting on May 28 or June 4.
Former Penrith general manager and premiership-winning coach Phil Gould, a commentator on Nine’s coverage, was asked to join the committee but Gould said on Thursday: “I was not invited as a representative of Nine. I declined for my own personal reasons.”
The standoff fuelled speculation Nine, whose five-year $625 million contract with the NRL runs until 2022, could end its decades-long association with rugby league, and that a broadcaster like Network 10 could take on the free-to-air rights. A spokesman for the CBS-owned network declined to comment but Nine has indicated it wants to negotiate a revised deal and not walk away from the game.
A central point of talks between the administration and broadcasters will be about the absence of crowds, which Nine argues makes the game an inferior product and is not what it signed up for.
Sources close to discussions about what shape the competition will take when it resumes believe there is a good chance it will be played behind closed doors for the rest of the year, as would the State of Origin series.
Nine and Foxtel have also told the NRL the extension of the season into the months usually occupied by other sports including cricket decreases the value of the rights, which ordinarily are worth $13m per round in total.
While Nine argues its deal with the NRL has not been fulfilled and therefore a new one needs be agreed, the NRL believes it is on a solid legal footing because of the force majeure clause in its broadcast contracts. Such provisions are included in contracts to account for unforseen circumstances out of an organisation’s control and tend to refer to events such as a war, government order or an epidemic.
Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany did not return calls.
Chris Barrett is Sports Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.