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Nine set to dump Thursday night football in next TV deal

Peter Beattie’s announcement that he is quitting as chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission in February also poses a problem for the game as it approaches the next TV deal.

Say what you want about Beattie, but he doesn’t have any ties to anyone in the game. There was a problem with some well-publicised gaffes, but he had so little history in rugby league that he wasn’t seen to be anyone’s man.

His own man: For all his flaws, Peter Beattie is not beholden to any vested interests.

His own man: For all his flaws, Peter Beattie is not beholden to any vested interests.Credit:James Brickwood

Peter V’landys is the very strong tip to take over the top job. For those who don’t know, V’landys is the chief executive of Racing NSW. He will keep that role – which pays a healthy six-figure sum – and combine it with the job of chairman of the ARLC. It has been suggested this may not be the best look for the game: the key man coming from an industry that relies on gambling for its survival.

‘‘I think it’s an advantage that I am well versed in that area,’’ V’landys said. ‘‘I understand gaming and I know how to handle it.’’

That’s an issue the commission can deal with.

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As well as being a media darling, V’landys is renowned as a strong negotiator who seems the right person to secure the maximum broadcast revenue for the NRL. He is a hard man and a demanding and tough boss. However, his mission will be to divorce himself from the media organisations he is close to, put the players and the game first, and go for the throat when it comes to driving the TV deal.

V’landys is close to News Corp, which owns Fox Sports, one of the main bidders for the TV rights. In his role as chief executive of Racing NSW, V’landys spends millions of dollars every year having racing form guides included in News Corp papers. V’landys has significant status at News Corp, whose papers are highly supportive of the racing industry and him personally. And, given the job he has done to rejuvenate the racing industry in NSW, it’s largely understandable.

The question is how V’landys can maintain that close relationship while trying to squeeze Fox Sports for every last dollar of television revenue for the game.

‘‘I’ve had more arguments with News Corp than any other media group,’’ V’landys said. ‘‘I have not got the position yet but, if I do get it, they may be in for a surprise.’’

To complicate matters further, Amanda Laing, who sits on the ARLC with V’landys, holds a senior role at Foxtel. She is likely to exempt herself from discussions on the broadcast rights, but clearly wants a good deal for Foxtel and for the NRL. Laing is considered one of the best negotiators and smartest minds in her field.

Tightrope: Can Peter V’landys maintain his close relationship with News Corp while trying to squeeze Fox Sports?

Tightrope: Can Peter V’landys maintain his close relationship with News Corp while trying to squeeze Fox Sports?Credit:Wolter Peeters

As we revealed last week, NRL ratings are tumbling, especially on free-to-air television. Last weekend was the worst of the year with another massive drop-off. There is no question the Ashes is stripping viewers away from league with huge numbers watching the cricket. Some 800,000 viewers are believed to have turned away from league compared with the same weekend last year.

Inconsistent refereeing and match review panel decisions have been a constant bugbear. The decline is going to have a dramatic impact on the broadcast revenue when the agreement ends in 2022.

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While News Corp claims subscriptions to streaming service Kayo have topped 200,000, it is impossible to know how many people watch NRL games and what impact that has on the overall round viewing figure of more than 3.6 million.

Fox Sports would not provide detailed figures.

The NRL will no doubt suggest that the likes of beIN Sports and various streaming services will bid for the rights. They won’t. It’s just not worth it for a sport that is basically limited to the east coast.

That leaves Nine and Fox as the only genuine bidders. How V’landys approaches negotiations will attract plenty of scrutiny.

The fear of Todd

The man under the biggest pressure when V’landys gets the job is NRL boss Todd Greenberg. We are told V’landys is not a Greenberg fan.

How do you determine the success of an NRL CEO? Some will talk about refs and the judiciary, but the bottom line is a good place to start. The NRL is a $500million-a-year business. When former boss David Gallop left in 2012 it was worth about $150 million a year.

Hot seat: Todd Greenberg's job will come under scrutiny if Peter V’landys takes over as chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission.

Hot seat: Todd Greenberg’s job will come under scrutiny if Peter V’landys takes over as chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission.Credit:AAP

TV money is not the whole story. Money has been generated in sponsorships, taking Origin matches outside of NSW and Queensland, and from Magic Round. Three years ago the NRL was looking for a bank loan; now they’ve got $100million-plus in the bank.

Players got ball rolling – and Brown saw the end

In the days leading up to Nathan Brown announcing he will leave Newcastle at the end of the season, there had been things happening behind the scenes. And Brown had sensed the mood.

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He fronted club boss Phil Gardner. They came to the understanding that there was a better way forward for the club – and that was without Brown. Behind the scenes there were at least two Knights players spreading the word about the virtues of Roosters assistant coach Adam O’Brien, who is favoured to take over. They convinced another player that O’Brien was the man to lead the club and Brown’s days were numbered.

Newcastle’s recruitment boss, Troy Pezet, has been dragged into the story. I spoke at length with him and he said he had no significant influence at the club. He asked not to be quoted, but said the decision makers at Newcastle were well above him.

Pezet was a player manager. He worked for a company run by David Riolo and Isaac Moses before they split. Riolo and Pezet have a good relationship. Pezet and Moses have had issues. O’Brien’s agent is Moses.

I have asked Gardner for comment about the meeting with Brown. I have not received a reply.

Flanno in fashion?

Shane Flanagan – ahead of Nathan Brown and Geoff Toovey – is the standout former coach without a first-grade job for next year and there are some Dragons powerbrokers who have been whispering his name as the club starts to look to the future.

This column has never been critical of Dragons mentor Paul McGregor, but even he knows he will need a strong start to next year to keep the wolves from the door. The club has acknowledged they have issues with coaching. The Dragons don’t like to use the word sacked, but four members of their coaching set-up have officially been told to look around for other options. It’s a sign of respect for Dean Young and Ben Hornby, in particular, that the door has not been slammed in their faces.

Well regarded: There are clubs waiting on Shane Flanagan to be cleared to return to the game.

Well regarded: There are clubs waiting on Shane Flanagan to be cleared to return to the game.Credit:Wolter Peeters

Mat Head and Mick Crawley have also been told to explore other options. There is considerable discontent among that group that they have been singled out and McGregor has survived. But the club clearly thinks they need a refresh and the next obvious move is to change coach.

There is some chance that Young could be reappointed.

Flanagan knows he has some hoops to jump through to be allowed to return to the game. He was deregistered as a coach indefinitely in December 2018 for failing to adhere to the conditions of his suspension in 2014. He will jump as high as the NRL wants him to. Flanagan’s ego isn’t too big to accept an assistant job, but he is a premiership-winning coach who has outstanding man-management skills.

Take it as fact that there are clubs waiting on the NRL to clear him to return.

Secret agents

Here is an odd one. Kalyn Ponga is on the lookout for a new agent – and it would be a shock if he signed with a rugby league manager. He is understood to be considering all kinds of reps – even those with an AFL connection. The AFL’s Brisbane Lions wanted him before he became a league star.

The chances of him staying with the Knights and in league appear slim with the All Blacks sure to come knocking. You’d hope he only leaves after he’s achieved big things in the NRL.

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