At times it had descended into little more than name calling and petty recriminations but finally an NRL rights deal has been agreed upon.
The deal – worth $1.8 billion over five years from 2018 – sees News Corp finally come to the party with a monster cheque for $1 billion. Channel Nine, who originally signed a deal with the league in August for $925 million, loses some games but has the original outlay reduced by $300 million to $625 million.
The other chief player, Telstra, will spring $175 million for the digital subscription rights.
It is understood preliminary contracts were signed yesterday afternoon between the three major players and the NRL, with the deal to be officially announced today. It has also been reported that Optus did make a play for the rights but was never seriously in the hunt against News’ massive war chest.
For its billion, News’ Foxtel will snare all of the Saturday night matches and, for compensation for losing its Monday night games (due to be phased out at the end of next season), it will pick up an extra live game on Friday night. The match will reportedly start at 6pm and be a precursor to Nine’s main Friday night game at 8pm. Nine will obviously get the pick of the matches and the Foxtel game will most probably be between two teams that don’t rate heavily in the Sydney/Brisbane TV market.
It is thought with extra naming rights and international rights, NRL’s eventual kitty could balloon to over $2 billion.
The rights deal ends months of acrimony between the players that ultimately saw the original architect of the deal, the NRL’s Dave Smith, resign.
So aggrieved by the original deal, News Corp used its considerable media stable to lampoon it and Smith himself. Rupert Murdoch – who had just sprung $2.5 billion for the AFL rights – said at the time “we (News) had always preferred Aussie Rules” and even threatened to turn his league-loving organ The Daily Telegraph against the game.
However, it’s quite clear everybody has kissed and made up. News’ Tele and Oz were both this morning singing the praises of the deal. The Tele calling it “historic”, a “win for fans” and – one final dig at their nemesis – “the new deal has taken shape in the weeks since former league boss Dave Smith’s resignation last month”.