“I am buoyed by Mr Marks’ support of rugby league and his commitment to the game. The meeting provided us with the opportunity to outline our positions and discuss next steps to navigate this crisis.
“We are both focused on the long-term success of the game and, while there is more work to do, I am optimistic we will find a way through this together. Our next meeting, where we will endeavour to construct a road map for the game this year, must include Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany.”
The Herald has been told by sources with knowledge of the meeting that Nine also expressed its preference to wipe the 2020 season, in stark contrast to V’landys’ push for a May 28 restart. The end result could fall somewhere in the middle.
Nine doesn’t want to walk away from the game. It wants a two-year extension, but under different terms and for less than the $110 million it currently pays the governing body each year.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NRL has been unable to deliver on the product its broadcasters had expected as part of a $1.8 billion rights deal over five years. The NRL has enacted the force majeure clause after being left with no choice but to breach its contract with its broadcast partners.
None of the parties involved wants to see the matter head to court, hence the renegotiation that’s about to take place between V’landys, Marks and Delany.
V’landys is a realist. It’s unlikely the NRL will deliver all of its promised content this year, and the world in which $1.8 billion rugby league broadcast deals are done may no longer exist.
Foxtel has recently made moves to lower its cost base. Only last week it made 200 staff redundant and stood down another 140 employees until the end of June.
Right now Fox Sports broadcasts all eight games, three of which are simulcast with Nine and five exclusive matches.
Changing the structure to suit Nine would also benefit Fox. The fact it has only six exclusive games is unlikely to impact on the number of subscribers – which underpins its business – but will mean it can reduce the $190 million it currently pays for the rights to all eight games.
Under that scenario, both both Fox and Nine win. They want to pay less. The NRL might not be quite as happy with the result but it gets the security of a deal for at least another two years in a climate that is providing very little certainty.
The NRL had been holding out hope of extracting more than $1.8bn in the 2023-2027 rights deal. It could call Nine’s bluff, but it runs the risk of attracting even less, if any, revenue from Channel Seven or Channel 10.
Then there’s the problem of starting a competition that is also meeting some resistance from government.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a rugby league tragic, applauded the NRL’s determination to return to normality but reiterated a need to adhere to the nation’s health advice.
“I like the ambition,” Morrison said. “I like they are trying to get the show back on the road in some way. It will be subject to health advice and there will be no special arrangements.”
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro seems to be the most vocal in his support of a May 28 NRL restart, volunteering to act as a “conduit” between the government and the league
“It’s an ambitious date but you have to set a target,” Barilaro told Fox Sports.
“I’m confident they can have a plan in place, and can get the health experts to sign off on it. It’s not against the rules. They have every right to try and return. It’s an ambitious date but it is one worth trying to get to.”
Michael Chammas is a sports reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald