One of the country’s foremost experts on media rights has predicted NRL chief executive Dave Smith could yet emerge a hero from the battle for broadcasting dollars but only if he embraces expansion and adds another team in Brisbane.
Colin Smith, whose company Global Media and Sports was involved in the NRL’s last broadcasting deal, warned the decision to alienate Fox Sports and Telstra meant the game was likely to lose significant ground to the AFL, which this week announced a new broadcasting agreement worth more than $2.5 billion.
However, he added a caveat.
“The NRL to solve this needs to do something really revolutionary, add two more teams and give them to Fox Sports,” Colin Smith said. “One of those teams should be in Brisbane. The Queensland market is under-serviced. That’s the work I did three years ago and it showed they should look at expansion.
“The commission put their head in the sand on that. That’s what they should do. That gives better content — exclusivity of content — and Queensland is under-serviced. You would definitely add two teams. Then he (Smith) could come out of it being a hero.”
In announcing the NRL’s $925 million deal with the Nine Network for broadcasting rights from 2018, Dave Smith revealed there was scope for expansion.
However, the appetite for more teams has been suppressed in recent years by the need to financially support the game’s existing clubs.
There was hope the NRL would edge close to $2bn from its next broadcasting agreement once pay-TV and digital rights were factored in, easing the pressure on clubs and ushering in a new era of financial security.
However, those hopes appear to be waning, fuelling discontent in clubland and vindicating some who privately questioned the NRL’s decision to thumb its nose at Fox Sports and Telstra by keeping them in the dark over the deal with Nine.
The NRL’s decision to announce a deal with Nine, which infuriated its other broadcasting partners, has stunned many within the media industry, particularly given the experience that resides on the ARL Commission.
Among the commissioners is former Australian Competition & Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel, who was involved with the previous NRL deal and was a former member of the AFL Commission.
Only last year he warned against cutting out broadcasters at the expense of internet-delivered television — the NRL has held talks with Google and been linked with Netflix as an alternative to Fox Sports.
“If you’re Foxtel you absolutely need top-line premium sport,” Colin Smith said. “They will do a deal irrespective. But a deal won’t be done with love and kisses. News (Corp) gave up its ownership (of rugby league) at the last deal and also gave up on first and last (rights).
“For that, you could argue they have been totally screwed over. The worst thing is this is the NRL’s making. The NRL did this. It’s a brilliant deal, fantastic for Channel Nine. But not so certain it is fantastic for the NRL.
“It is like declaring war. I had three years of my life in this sport, really enjoyed it and loved the people, but I think this has not left the sport in great shape.
“I think they will still do a deal, I am certain they will still do a deal. This will be settled at some stage. They (Foxtel) definitely need the NRL in Sydney especially, and to a lesser extent Brisbane. The biggest pay-TV market in the country is Sydney and that is driven a lot by rugby league. So there’s a deal to be done. This will need some breathing space and they will be calling for some blood too.”
Colin Smith also had more sobering news for the NRL in the form of New Zealand broadcasting rights. The NRL is yet to sell those and he warned they could be in for more disappointment.
“They’re counting on this huge number from New Zealand — $150 million. The TV numbers in New Zealand are pretty dreadful. The games last weekend in New Zealand were about 30,000 (viewers). The All Blacks … were 580,000.”