NRL CEO Andrew Abdo has declared that the new broadcast deal with Nine Entertainment is “a partnership - not just a transaction”.
However, the five-year agreement is also a record television and media rights deal for the game, with Nine, Fox Sports and Sky NZ paying more than $2 billion to broadcast the Telstra Premiership, Telstra NRLW Premiership and Ampol State of Origin until 2027.
Their investment is a show of confidence in the way the game has been managed during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has threatened to bring the biggest sporting organisations to their knees at a time when the value of broadcast rights were already under pressure.
Negotiations by Abdo and ARLC chairman Peter V’landys with their Nine counterparts, Mike Sneesby and Peter Costello, were tough and long winded but resulted in the continuation of a 30-year relationship between the broadcaster and the game.
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Under the terms of the new deal, Nine will continue to broadcast three matches per round and have exclusive rights to the NRL grand final and State of Origin, which will include all three matches being played on Wednesday night from 2023.
Nine will have three extra matches per season from 2023, when the Dolphins join the competition, as well as the Brisbane radio streaming rights for all derby clashes between the NRL's 17th team and Broncos.
However, the agreement includes innovative changes to the broadcasting of the game and Nine will also use its digital, radio and newspaper assets to promote the code from grassroots to the elite level.
With the increased revenue coming on top of a significant profit for the 2021 season, despite the cost of relocating the competition to Queensland, the game has never been in a stronger position.
How much is the new deal worth?
The NRL have announced that revenue from the game's three broadcast partners - Nine, Fox Sports and Sky NZ - will total more than $400m per annum for five years from 2023 until 2027.
Nine have confirmed that their share of the deal is valued at more than $600m, including a contra component, which will be used to promote the game and support targeted grassroots initiatives.
The overall figure of more than $2b for five years is an increase on the current $1.8b deal, which was finalised in 2015 at a time when broadcast deals were virtually doubling each time they were negotiated.
The previous five-year deal, announced in 2012 for the 2013-to-2017 seasons, was worth $1.025b.
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Those days are gone as revenue sources for traditional broadcasters have been eroded by global streaming giants such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney and Apple, and Abdo said the significance of the new deal was huge for the game.
“The Commission wanted to secure the medium term, and the long term, future of the game so by extending the free-to-air rights deal out to 2027, in combination with our subscription tv deal in Australia with Fox Sports and our New Zealand deal, the game will now have over $400m in media rights revenue from 2023," Abdo said.
“That is more than the game has ever had before so for us to be able to increase that investment from Channel Nine - and the investment has increased across all our partners – shows the confidence of our partners in the game, but also provides us with the investment that we need to re-invest in the game."
Where will the money go?
Abdo said the funds would help grow the game from grassroots to elite level, including the NRLW competition, which will increase from four teams to six when the postponed 2021 competition kicks off on February 27 and is expected to expand further.
Increasing participation - for tackle, touch and tag - will be a focus and the increased revenue won't just be swallowed by a blow out in the pay packets of NRL stars or funding of clubs but they will receive their share of the spoils.
“This will benefit all aspects of the game, from grass roots through to the expansion of the competition and our elite women’s pathways, as well," he said.
“This is good for stability, but it is also good for the strength of the game in terms of re-investment.
“The ability for us to continue to grow revenues is good for all stakeholders in the game because it means that the Commission is able to invest in the future.
“There was a real focus [in negotiations] on using Channel Nine’s broad range of assets and media platforms to not just to do a broadcast deal or a tv deal but to do a deal that helps us to grow the game.
"We wanted a deal that drives participation, drives awareness of what we are trying to achieve, thinks about and promotes the development of the women’s competition and our pathways competitions, and essentially is right at the centre of what we are trying to achieve in terms of broadcasting the game."
What does the deal mean for Nine?
Nine will continue to broadcast NRL matches on Thursday night, Friday night and Sunday afternoon, as well as five Saturday night matches per season, and has exclusive rights to State of Origin and the grand final until 2027.
In addition, Nine has radio rights for 2GB and 4BC, which include the 4pm Sunday match broadcast by the free-to-air network, and digital rights for 9Now.
After drawing Australia's biggest live BVOD audience for this year's grand final between Penrith and South Sydney at Suncorp Stadium, 9Now will deliver over 100 hours of Nine-produced digital content per season.
Significantly, Nine will also use its television, digital, radio and print assets to promote all aspects of the game.
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"There are a lot of elements of this deal that are really focused on driving outcomes," Abdo said.
“We have got a big increase in the commitment of Nine to promote and cross-promote the game, and a big increase in contra and services to help us with that cross promotion.
“We have integrated radio into this deal but it is also an opportunity to use some of the other programming on Nine to help grow the game.
"It is also an opportunity for us to work together on innovation in terms of the way that the game is broadcast and the way it is produced."
Will there be more NRLW coverage?
Nine will broadcast NRLW matches and use their digital, radio and newspaper assets to promote the competition, which will increase to six teams when the postponed 2021 season kicks off in February and is expected to expand further.
“NRLW games are absolutely part of the new deal but we have a commitment now in this partnership to cross-promote the game with all of Channel Nine’s assets," Abdo said.
In a press release, Nine vowed to continue to cement its commitment to the women’s game with expanded broadcast, digital offerings and reporting of the NRLW competition.
“For 30 years, rugby league has played a major role in the history of Wide World of Sports and we’re delighted to be extending our association at a time when the sport is entering such an exciting growth period," Nine's head of sport Brent Williams said.
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“While Nine will continue to be the exclusive home of the game’s biggest events, we look forward to partnering with the NRL to help the continuing growth of the Women’s game and to develop targeted grassroots initiatives.
"We’re excited to collaborate with the clubs and players of all levels to deliver new broadcast initiatives and digital offerings across our multiple platforms.”
How will fans benefit?
The NRL's aim is to be the most entertaining sporting competition in the world Nine is expected to work closely with the clubs and players to deliver a more innovative coverage of the game over the next six years.
Abdo said the NRL wanted to continue improving its offering to fans and there would be a focus on broadcast innovation and presentation of the game under the new deal.
“It wasn’t just about getting a rights deal done, it was about having a partner that was committed to helping innovate in terms of the way the game is presented to fans and this deal does that," Abdo said.
“There will be mechanisms in this partnership that mean we will be able to work together on some of the changes that you will see take place so that fans get to see and feel the different way we want to take rugby league.
“We want to take the fans even closer to the field and even closer to the players, and some of the elements of what we have done in this deal will result in a much more innovative production and broadcast."