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Nine boss says sports rights deals aren’t purely about dollars

Nine Entertainment Co boss Mike Sneesby has said he is confident the NRL isn’t solely focused on large amounts of money from a future broadcast partner, despite the code progressing talks with rival networks in an effort to shore up at least $115 million a year from a new deal.

Industry sources, who spoke anonymously because the talks are confidential, said the NRL is in talks with the three commercial free-to-air television networks about the potential to run games across multiple networks and ideally wants more than $115 million a year over five years. The sources said no bids have been submitted, but there is interest from Seven for one game a week and the State of Origin matches.

Brisbane may have a second team in the NRL alongside the Broncos.

Brisbane may have a second team in the NRL alongside the Broncos. Credit:Getty

Some inside US-owned Network Ten are also interested in acquiring the rights for the NRL premiership and the State of Origin series, but a bid will depend on whether it has the money following the acquisition of the rights to soccer’s A-League, W-League, key international fixtures involving Australia’s men’s and women’s teams as well as the FFA Cup and other Asian tournaments.

“I’d hope we get to the right commercial outcome with the NRL on a longer-term deal, but obviously these deals aren’t all about purely what the dollars involved are,” Mr Sneesby told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age following the company’s annual results last week. “They’re also about what is right for the game, long term. I’m really confident in both [NRL chief executive] Andrew Abdo and [ARLC chairman] Peter V’landys’ focus and ability to develop and grow their game.

“There isn’t a better media company suited to helping them on that journey and helping to develop the NRL. I know that their view around the game won’t simply be commercial, it’ll be what’s best for the game.”

Nine executives made a formal presentation to Mr V’landys and Mr Abdo earlier this month, proposing a renewal of their existing rights deal with the code and outlining their plans for the future. But Mr V’landys was vocal in the meeting about a lack of promotion for rugby league by Nine, which owns The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, radio, streaming and digital assets.

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Sources involved in the talks said the NRL is expecting a minimum of $115 million annually for a five-year rights deal, which would allow the free-to-air network deal to coincide with the expiry of a deal in place with pay-TV and streaming company, Foxtel. The sources indicated Nine currently does not want to pay this price but equally does not want the matches to be split across multiple networks. Other networks can bid once Nine submits an offer, and it is rejected by the NRL.

The NRL broadcast rights are the biggest in sport to go to market this year. While sports are typically loss-making events for a television broadcaster, they can be used to promote other key programs for a channel and boost audiences and advertising revenue.

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