NRL considers in-house production for next TV rights deal
Adrian Proszenko and Chris BarrettOctober 21, 2019 — 12.55pm
Sydney Morning Herald
The NRL will consider bringing broadcast production of its matches in-house for the next television rights deal to maximise revenue in a move that would have huge ramifications for its traditional media partners.
The existing deal with Foxtel and Nine Entertainment Co – the publishers of the Herald – doesn’t expire until the end of the 2022 season. However, the governing body is already planning for the next rights negotiations to ensure all options are considered in a rapidly changing media landscape.
There could be huge changes to the way the NRL is covered and consumed in the future.
The NRL extracted $2 billion from Nine, Foxtel and Telstra to provide coverage of the game over a five-year period, a figure 70 per cent higher than the previous deal. However, changes in technology and viewing habits could result in the value flatlining or even decreasing when the rights are next up for grabs.
Rugby league has long gone with a two-partner model of a free-to-air and subscription provider, with Fox and Nine paying top dollar for a property that has been a sure-fire ratings winner. However, the emergence of streaming service Kayo and a shift to fans consuming sport on mobile devices has further fragmented the market.
The NRL will give its current broadcast partners every opportunity to retain the rights before exploring alternate options. However, according to sources with knowledge of the approaching negotiations, the NRL could produce the broadcast content itself and then look to sell off the properties to interested parties if it isn’t satisfied with the price broadcasters are willing to pay.
For instance, there could be a scenario in which the Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday and Sunday games could be sold as separate entities to individual networks, such as Nine, Seven, Ten and Fox Sports. Money would be saved by centralising all of the production costs while bidders could be prepared to pay more given it is an expense they wouldn’t have to bear.
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Such a model would bring free-to-air broadcasters including Seven and Ten into the mix, raising the prospect of rugby league being spread across several channels. Platforms such as Google, Facebook and Netflix – often dubbed as “disruptors” to traditional media – may also emerge as rights bidders in the future.
There is also the possibility that the NRL could sell off various properties – such as State of Origin, the World and club 9s tournaments, international matches and the All Stars fixture – separately in a bid to extract maximum value.
Several other Australian sports including V8 Supercars have already taken their content production in-house. Tennis also uses a similar model for major events such as grand slams, on-selling the rights to broadcasters who then provide their own commentary teams.
The NRL has already made a $150 million investment in a digital strategy that includes a huge injection in nrl.com. It opens up the possibility of games potentially being delivered directly to subscribers, effectively taking out traditional television broadcasters as the middlemen.
The Origin matches, currently shown exclusively live on Nine, remain the biggest television events of the year. The NRL grand final between the Roosters and Raiders returned the lowest viewing figures on the network since 2003, attracting 1.866 million across the five capital cities. The decline was more alarming in the AFL grand final between Richmond and Greater Western Sydney, which attracted 2.19 million viewers – a 20 per cent drop on the previous decider.
Traditional TV figures are down for the NRL, although industry analysts believe the numbers stack up relatively well given the trend towards watching content on other electronic devices.
The NRL is expected to provide its strategy for the game’s footprint in coming months. The addition or relocation of teams could result in more value being added to the broadcast rights, particularly if Queensland gains a franchise.