The NRL’s crucial new broadcast deal was always Dave Smith’s baby.
But the former banker has quit from his post as the game’s chief executive with the deal only half complete.
The NRL’s $925-million free-to-air deal with Channel Nine was announced with much fanfare in August.
Within days the AFL swamped that with a $2.5-billion deal for 2017-2022 encompassing free-to-air, pay TV and digital components.
News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch reportedly paid ‘overs’ for the pay TV component to make a point to the NRL after their cable network Fox Sports was blindsided by the deal with Channel Nine.
Smith had since come under fierce criticism after locking Fox Sports out of the bargaining as the pay-tv channel lost two of their key NRL properties under the new deal – their Monday night game and their monopoly on Saturday night coverage.
That put Fox and News Corp well and truly offside.
Speculation has been strong that those parties were unwilling to negotiate with Smith on the remaining components of the new deal and that was a key driver for the end of his reign.
However in announcing his resignation at Rugby League Central at Moore Park on Tuesday, Smith was confident the NRL was on the right track to securing a favourable outcome.
“We have done a landmark deal with our free-to-air partners, that mean more free (coverage) for our fans. I haven’t met a fan who has complained about that quite frankly and I don’t think you ever will,” Smith said.
“We set ourselves precisely and deliberately a two-and-a-half year time frame to sell the rights.
“Those rights especially for content that is as unique as ours are growing exponentially and will continue to grow exponentially. I have every confidence that we will do an amazing rights deal that will be contemporary and set for the future for our fans.
“I wouldn’t be leaving if I didn’t think that was the case.”
ARL Commission chairman John Grant, who has not always seen eye-to-eye with Smith, backed that stance.
“We have got an amazing free-to-air deal in place, everything that Dave has described,” he said.
“It is comfortable for people in the media to think everything is around the point person but there is a broad team of people who are engaged in these discussions with the broadcasters and these people and these discussions are continuing.”
Grant gave no time frame for the announcement of a deal.
“We have two years to make it happen, we were never going to be rushed about this, we have had very constructive discussions and those discussions are continuing.”