A FOURTH free-to-air match, on Saturday nights, is one of the key battleground issues in NRL television rights talks which have accelerated fast.
Three free-to-air NRL games a week are now screened by the Nine Network, with commercial networks to lobby hard for a live Saturday night game.
This could be the timeslot for a second free-to-air network for rugby league which misses out on the Friday night properties and rights to the all-important State of Origin series.
Fox Sports, which presently broadcast all Saturday NRL content in most weeks, would have to pay a premium price to keep all matches on that day exclusively.
Despite strong Monday night ratings for Fox Sports’ NRL games this year, a free-to-air network would much prefer a Saturday night NRL property rather than the first night of the working week.
A Saturday night free-to-air game is one of the key negotiating points for the NRL’s new TV deal. Picture Adam Head.Source: News Corp Australia
The Courier-Mail revealed on May 19 that NRL broadcast rights for up to five years from 2018 onwards could be signed this year despite two years on the existing contracts of Nine and Fox Sports still to run.
One central issue with the NRL rights has become whether one network will be able to afford to buy all free-to-air rights.
Industry analysts told The Courier-Mail the NRL could expect to receive at least $1.5 billion for a five-year term, up from its current $1.025 billion.
Another matter central to these talks is the ownership of the Ten network.
NRL chief executive David Smith confirmed last week the rights for different timeslots each round and the plum State of Origin matches could be divided between networks and won by the highest bidder.
Networks heard the same message from the previous NRL administration in 2012, but the difference is that Channel 9 was able to bid to retain all free-to-air properties with a first and last refusal condition.
It’s an advantage Nine relinquished for the next rights negotiations.
The Seven Network is said to be keen to cherrypick the three Origin matches at what would be a massive mark-up.
Nine would like to gain the rights to broadcast an AFL match from the suite of timeslots commanded by Seven until the end of next season.
When final bids are made to the NRL and AFL, we will know exactly how much the Seven and Nine networks wanted programming from outside their primary football codes and how much was shadow boxing.
With video streaming services moving in on the Australian market, sports programming is an outstanding way for a network to retain the attention of lucrative demographics for five more years.
The television industry sees as common sense that the NRL must first decide how many teams will be in its competition long term.
NRL head of strategy Shane Richardson is examining the worth of expansion to the composition in among other aspects of future planning for the sport.
Sports media analyst Colin Smith, managing director of Global Media and Sports, named the NRL, AFL and cricket as the three “absolute must-carry sports’’ for commercial networks and subscription television.
Most expect the AFL, which comes out of contract a year earlier than the NRL, to reach a decision before the NRL does. A television executive said one network had submitted its bid for AFL programming two weeks ago.
Nine, with the NRL rights, and Seven, with the AFL rights, will try hard to keep all current programming. This allows them to package advertising across multiple days and nights as a “one-stop shop’’.