When the new NRL deal was announced last week – a $925 million deal with Channel Nine – there was one noticeable absentee in it all – News Corp.
And all reports the media giant was more than miffed about being left out of the deal completely bar an as-yet-to-be announced deal with the News-owned Foxtel.
And it could be said the threats and recriminations may have already started.
On Monday, at the announcement of the AFL’s $2.5 billion deal News Corp patriarch, Rupert Murdoch, said: “We’ve always believed this (AFL) is the premium code in Australia – it’s the national game.” However, this from an organisation that tried to buy NRL in the ill-fated foray in 1997 known as Super League.
The Murdoch’s are rumoured to be so furious about the Nine/NRL deal that Rupert has said “Aussie Rules” would be “his company’s preferred choice among the nation’s codes”.
There has also been reports that News’ league loving tabloids – Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph and Brisbane’s The Courier Mail – would switch from giving swags of coverage to league over to Aussie rules (which it presently gives all about zilch coverage to).
And it appears News’ threats are coming true. This morning’s www.dailytelegraph.com.au is already calling for NRL boss Dave Smith’s head. Under the headline “Why Smug Smith Should Walk Away” league scribe Rebecca Wilson describes the NRL’s new deal as an “own goal”. This despite the same newspaper singing the very deal’s praises and calling it a win for fans only 10 days earlier.
“Smith had snuck in under the radar of Fox Sports and Nine’s other two free-to-air competitors, Channels Seven and Ten. He had done the deal in secret, not even informing long time partners Foxtel of what was coming.
“So smug was Smith about the deal that he told anyone who would listen that Foxtel would now have no choice but to jump on and pay top dollar for the dregs of the games,” Wilson writes.
However, when the deal was announced last week The Tele extoled its values in no uncertain terms. “The NRL’s TV rights deal is the biggest in Australian sport” it yelled, “Now the code must make the most of it!”
Which begs the question: have News’ journos been ordered to write nasty things about the NRL?
On Monday The Oz’s TV reporter Michael Bodey wrote: “The NRL’s seeming abandonment of the benefits of round-the-clock coverage of its sport on Fox Sports and in News Corp newspapers and digital sites, including The Daily Telegraph and Courier-Mail, is likely to see News Corp’s attention swing to the AFL.”
This morning, The Australian’s (very excellent) media section carries the headline “NRL to fall short in bid for $1.7bn TV rights deal”.
The article suggests that the News-owned Foxtel is so pissed at the NRL deal that it is set to make the game a very second-tier one behind AFL on the network.
The article reads: “Sources close to high-level discussions said News Corp executives would refuse to match the $530 million cheque the company’s sports programming subsidiary Fox Sports signed for five exclusive matches a round under the existing five-year contract, which ends in 2017.
No matter what happens, it still has a long way to play out. And it’s clear Nine (although David Gyngell has yet remained unscathed) and Dave Smith are in for some horror reading over their morning newspaper and toast.