‘Origin could go international’: NRL considering making overseas move

The NRL will test the feasibility of taking a State of Origin match overseas in a bid to maximise the value of the next broadcast deal.

Rugby League Central has toyed with the idea of taking a competition game to the United States in recent years, but the "round zero" project was ultimately scrapped because the numbers didn’t stack up. However, league officials haven’t given up on taking premium league matches to the United States or other potentially lucrative markets in a bid to grow the game and improve its bottom line.

American dream: State of Origin made its only overseas foray when it was staged in California in 1987.Credit:Craig Golding

The game’s last foray into the American market wasn’t a financially successful one. The promoter of the Denver Test between England and New Zealand in 2018 failed to meet his financial obligations. Given he was also behind the bid to take the 2025 Rugby League World Cup to the US, the location of that event remains in doubt.

However, those setbacks haven’t dissuaded head office’s interest in taking the game into new markets.

"We want to consider if we can ever take an Origin international," Greenberg said. "That would probably go in the mix for the new broadcast deal.

"Under the current model, to play prime time here for Channel Nine, you would be a brave person to move the highest rating program on TV last year. That obviously makes it hard. We will look at that in the next cycle."

State of Origin has long been a cash cow for the game. The three games are consistently among the most-watched programs of the year and revenues have been further boosted by interstate governments desperate to attract a match.

The NRL is also considering expanding the game in other senses, by adding a 17th NRL team. Administrators are investigating whether another team would result in additional revenue to the game via broadcasters and other potential commercial partners. Greenberg was hopeful a definitive decision will be made on the game’s future footprint by the end of the year.

"We have been talking to every club, every level of government, New Zealand, Perth, Adelaide, Queensland, broadcasters," Greenberg said. "We have been getting everyone’s views. We have another report in the middle of this year. We have two more reports to the commission for their review. We debate them again and we have to land on a position by the end [of 2020]."

Gold Coast head of performance and culture Mal Meninga has cautioned that the introduction of another Brisbane team could damage the Titans and urged the NRL to wait until all the existing teams are financially sustainable.

"We have been in dialogue with them," Greenberg said. "We are going to catch up with them and talk to them directly. I can appreciate their views, definitely."

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