NRL signs new $575m, five-year free-to-air broadcast deal with Nine

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo has pledged the NRL’s record broadcast rights revenue will be spread from grassroots right through to the game’s elite players after signing a five-year extension with Nine Entertainment Co for the free-to-air television rights.

After months of wrangling, Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys and NRL boss Abdo have extended the code’s deal with its long-term broadcast partner into a fourth decade worth $575 million.

Nine Entertainment Co, the publisher of this masthead, will continue to broadcast three matches per round and have exclusive rights to the State of Origin series and grand final. All three Origin matches will be played on Wednesday nights from 2023.

The deal will be for an average of $115 million in cash per year with a further $15 million of contra and other non-cash services to be provided. The terms are similar to the current deal that finishes after the 2022 season, which is worth an average of $115 million per year plus $10 million contra.

Having been forced to help struggling NRL clubs through the COVID-19 pandemic, Abdo said he wants the funds to be spread right across the game at all levels before the NRL starts collective bargaining agreement negotiations with the players’ union.

Nine chief executive Mike Sneesby and NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo shake hands in the foyer of the Nine headquarters in North Sydney.Credit:Anna Kucera

“Today is a terrific day for our fans,” Abdo told the Herald. “It was important for us to partner with an organisation that can really help us grow the game and really get reach, and Nine with its wide range of assets and platforms is uniquely placed, so we’re very fortunate.

“From a financial perspective, getting certainty for a sport is critical and we now have our major media rights locked in until 2027. That puts us in a position to think about how we can invest to grow and having the most amount of people playing our sport, including touch, tag and tackle for men and women.

“For us to be able to get over $400 million per annum locked up in media rights in the new cycle is the highest the game has ever had.

“We’re always thinking about growth and ways in which we can return even more to our stakeholders, whether making sure the clubs are viable or the right investments into participation. It needs to make it down to grassroots and felt by our community clubs while we make sure our elite players are getting a fair wage.”

Nine Entertainment Co will continue to hold radio and audio broadcast rights through its 2GB and 4BC platforms in Sydney and Brisbane respectively, which will include exclusive rights for the Sunday 4pm games.

The NRL has signed a five-year deal with Nine Entertainment Co for its free-to-air rights until the end of 2027.Credit:Getty

The deal was announced to the Australian Stock Exchange on Monday afternoon.

Nine Entertainment Co lobbied for a return to Wednesday night for Origin matches, which saw a stunning growth in streaming numbers through the business’ Nine Now platform.

“The big difference in this deal is five years ago when we signed the last deal we were primarily a television business, now we’re a diversified media business … this gives us six years of forward-looking runway to be thinking of opportunities to develop the game and how we bring it to our fans,” Nine Entertainment Co chief executive Mike Sneesby said.

“COVID really accelerated the way people behaved in the context of digital and online. We’ve seen that in the ratings numbers across the group, but in particular with NRL and State of Origin.”

Nine chief executive Mike Sneesby speaks after securing a five-year deal with the NRL.Credit:Anna Kucera

V’landys described it as an “exciting day for our fans”, with Nine Entertainment Co claiming it would offer “expanded broadcast, digital offerings and reporting of the NRLW competition”.

“This is more than a broadcast deal, it’s a partnership to grow rugby league using all of Nine’s media platforms – television, radio and print,” V’landys said.

“It was a priority for the commission to secure the long-term future of the game. In doing so, it was important to ensure that a long-term partnership reflected the commission’s desire to grow the game at all levels, to invest in innovation and to ensure we have a partner that can help grow the game from participation to pathway competitions and premierships.”

The NRL’s subscription partner Foxtel brokered a revised and extended deal through to the end of 2027 during the COVID-19 suspension of the competition last year, which will now align with the deals of Nine and Sky Sports New Zealand.

The NRL will introduce a 17th team, the Dolphins, in 2023.

The 17-team competition will feature 12 more regular season matches in total across a 26-round season and more club games during the Origin period with at least one team to have a bye each round.

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