NRL confirms $1.8bn TV rights deal with Fox Sports - 24-hour NRL channel to launch

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 27 November 2015

In a press conference this afternoon (Fri) NRL has confirmed details of an historic broadcast deal – set to boost the viewing experience for fans, with the launch of a dedicated 24-hour NRL channel.

The deal brings together News Corp (Fox Sports), Nine Entertainment and Telstra to deliver $1.8billion to the NRL, securing the game’s future for the 2016 to 2022 seasons. 

NRL Commission chairman John Grant fronted the conference, joined by representatives of broadcast partners.

In August, Nine secured the NRL free-to-air and streaming rights for the 2018-2022 seasons in a deal worth $185 million per year, but today's news sees a new five-year sports rights deal between Fox Sports, Nine Network and Telstra.

In response to a question, Grant described that deal as having "catalysed the rest of the parties to come to where we sit today". Executives described the new arrangement as having "reconstituted" Nine's initial deal.

"The rights have been re-cut," said one.

In relation to questions about whether or not NRL should have left owner of Fox Sports, News Corp Australia, out of initial negotiations, Grant said “this was not a mistake” and claimed to be happy with the new deal.

"It's the best possible outcome for rugby league," he said.

The new deal means Fox Sports has every game up to the grand final live, in high definition and ad break free during play on Fox Sports from 2016; the retention of Super Saturday games; a new family friendly game time slot on Friday nights from 2017; and a dedicated NRL channel from 2017.

Fox Sports will simulcast Thursday Night Football, Friday Night Football and Sunday games with Channel Nine. It will also retain its Super Saturday franchise.

Nine Entertainment Co (NEC) CEO Hugh Marks said: “This is an outstanding result for the game with more live and free coverage for NRL fans from 2016.

"For Nine, it clearly represents an enhanced outcome for our shareholders and enables us to participate in a strong media partnership delivering quality NRL coverage for the game, the clubs and the broader NRL community for the next seven years.”

The new 2017 NRL Fox Sports channel will feature every game of every round, news coverage, commentary and analysis from the game’s “biggest names”, along with a new exclusive Friday night game at 6pm, Super Saturday and a Sunday afternoon game.

News Corp Australia chief executive Peter Tonagh said: “This is a truly outstanding deal that will, for the first time in the history of the game, give fans live coverage of every game each round. It’s a big win for the fans, and a big win for the clubs, and News is delighted to be a part of it.

“The deal affirms Fox Sports as the home of NRL, and the premium destination for sports coverage in Australia. Patrick Delany and his team will deliver fans of every club an experience like no other.”

Telstra to launch new app

It was also announced that Telstra has extended its NRL sponsorship and digital rights to 2022, and that Telstra also plans to include the official NRL app on Telstra TV in early 2016.

The telco is extending its 17 year partnership with the NRL, signing a five year naming and mobile digital rights agreement providing access to the “best free and subscription content, including great live NRL action on mobiles”.

Telstra will also retain naming rights of the NRL premiership – extending the partnership to be one of the longest-running in Australian sports history.

Telstra chief executive officer, Andrew Penn, said the new agreement reaffirms Telstra’s leadership in giving Australians access to “world class mobile sporting experiences”.

“League fans are one of the most connected footy audiences in Australia and we are proud to be part of the NRL’s digital evolution that gives fans exciting experiences around NRL content, including professional insights, in depth statistics and great live action on the go,” Penn said.

As part of the renewed sponsorship and naming rights agreement, fans will access content and experiences through the Telstra Thanks program and increased social media integration, to connect them with the sport they love.

“Telstra and the NRL have a longstanding and successful partnership that will span more than two decades with this new agreement and we are thrilled to give league fans brilliant, exciting experiences that they can only get with Telstra,” Penn added.

Telstra will also offer customers game highlights and replays of all regular season and finals matches on the big screen through its IPTV platforms, including Telstra TV.

The specifics

For the 2016 and 2017 seasons, NEC has agreed to permit Fox Sports to simulcast matches (other than the State of Origin and the Grand Final), in return for a payment of $20 million per annum. NEC and Fox Sports have also agreed with the ARLC to move the delayed Friday night game to a live Thursday night slot (for 18 weeks in 2016 and 23 weeks in 2017), allowing Nine to show more matches live and in prime time. In 2017, Nine will also show a Saturday night match live, in the last five rounds of the weekly competition.

For the 2018 to 2022 seasons, Fox Sports will simulcast Nine’s matches (other than the State of Origin and the Grand Final) and NEC has given rights back to the ARLC in respect of the Saturday night match (which will be licensed to Fox Sports). As in 2017, the Saturday night match in the last five rounds of the weekly competition will be shown by both NEC and Fox Sports. NEC’s average cost over the 2018 to 2022 rights period will now be $125 million per annum, inclusive of contra, down from the previously announced $185 million per annum.

Under this revised agreement, live broadcast of NRL (inclusive of pre and post match commentary) on Free-To-Air TV will increase from approximately 150 hours in CY15 to approximately 240 hours from CY18.  

All games are live

Foxtel chief executive, Richard Freudenstein, today welcomed the announcement by the NRL.

“I’d like to congratulate News Corporation, Telstra, Fox Sports, Nine and the NRL for having reached an agreement that will ensure the best possible coverage of rugby league for its fans.

“Fox Sports has always strived to create the best viewing experience and, with the certainty of a long-term arrangement, they will continue to invest in brilliant coverage of the code.

“Ensuring that all games are available live from next year is a great outcome, as it will mean that Foxtel customers can watch their team live, ad break free in brilliant HD every week.

“NRL has always been an important part of our sports line up and we are sure that this deal will make Foxtel even more attractive to current and potential customers. At $50 per month the Foxtel sports package will be even better value for money,” said Mr Freudenstein.


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