Chief executive Dave Smith has hailed the NRL’s new broadcast deal with Channel Nine as a boon for fans with twice as many games to be shown on free-to-air TV as previously.
The NRL announced on Monday that Nine had secured the rights to broadcast the NRL from 2018 to 2022.
After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Nine will screen matches four days a week starting in 2018, in a deal worth “up to $925” million, the NRL said.
The number of live games on free-to-air TV will increase from the present two to four, with matches to be played during prime time on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday at 4pm.
“For our fans, I want to make sure this is all about the fans, this is a huge step forward,” Smith said at a press conference at Rugby League Central.
“It means that our fans will get four live and free matches in prime time. I am very excited about this announcement. I think this is a very big day for our fans.”
Smith said the deal was almost worth the same as the entire current deal across free-to-air TV, pay TV and digital broadcasts.
The former banking executive said the deal had secured the long term future of the game.
“We still have simulcast rights, pay TV, New Zealand and international television rights to be negotiated, so the future of the game is in great shape,” he said.
Channel Nine boss David Gyngell welcomed the news.
“This is a transformational outcome for supporters, rugby league and Nine,” he said. “It will enable viewers to see the best of the NRL, live and free, four days a week, anywhere and on any device.”
Under the new deal the second match in each State of Origin series will be played on a Sunday night as part of a stand alone weekend of representative football which will also feature Pacific Nation Tests.
The premiership will be played over 25 rounds, one less than the current model, while international rugby league will be given a new priority and played in a dedicated window after the NRL season.
The annual City/Country representative fixture and Monday night football are set to be axed under the new deal.
“In other words, we are preserving Origin as a marquee event of the year while minimising disruption to the premiership,” Smith said. “This will not only improve player welfare but it will be fairer for the clubs and fans.”
The NRL has also regained control of the premiership schedule from broadcasters.
“We will be able to schedule the best games when fans want to see them and ensure all clubs receive the coverage they deserve on free-to-air television,” Smith said.
The news will come as a blow to Channel Seven and Channel Ten who had been in the running to secure at least part of the broadcasting rights.
The move will affect pay TV operator Fox Sports’ coverage of the NRL.
They currently have a monopoly on Saturday night which they will no longer enjoy.
Smith said Fox Sports could simulcast all eight games, but that was yet to be decided.