The NRL says it has been vindicated after announcing a record $1.8 billion five-year television rights deal from 2018 onwards with the Nine Network, Fox Sports and Telstra.
The game’s governing body came in for criticism in August after announcing it had sold the free-to-air television rights to Nine and was accused of leaving News Corp Australia and Telstra out of the negotiations.
It created a schism between News Corp and chief executive Dave Smith, who stepped down last month.
Following Smith’s departure, News Corp reached out to ARL Commission chairman John Grant and all four parties were brought back to the negotiating table.
Grant said Friday’s announcement proved the decision to sell off the free-to-air broadcasting rights separately had been the correct one and it acted as a catalyst to the overall deal being done.
“Whatever the decisions are, we’ll take our time,” Grant said.
“We’ll make sure that we understand where we’re trying to get to really clearly. We’ll get the right pieces of information and the right facts in that discussion.”
After the NRL announced its deal with Nine earlier in the year, News Corp delivered a thinly veiled swipe at the 13-man code.
At the announcement of the AFL’s $2.5 billion six-year television deal with Foxtel, Telstra and the Seven Network, News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch quipped that his company had “always believed (AFL) is the premium code in Australia”.
In a shot across the NRL’s bow, he promised his company would commit resources to the AFL and help it expand into league heartland in Queensland and NSW.
However, tensions seem to have eased with News Corp chief executive Peter Tonagh declaring: “We love the NRL; we love both our children equally. We’re parents.”
The TV deal will run from 2018-22 but many of the changes will be phased in next season.
All matches will be simulcast live on Fox Sports, with Nine also broadcasting Thursday night, Friday night and Sunday afternoon football.
Under the deal, controversial Monday night fixtures will be scrapped in 2017, with Thursday night football to commence in 2016 and a 6pm Friday night match to kick off the following year.
With the sale of international and radio rights to come, it is anticipated the total value of the final package will exceed $1.9 billion.
Fox Sports will also introduce a dedicated 24-hour NRL channel in 2017.
“We have delivered the very best outcome for the game as a whole,” Grant said.
“In revisiting the number of free-to-air games in this agreement, we were responding to the value both Nine and News Corp Australia saw in the Saturday game.
“Compared to our current schedule, this result still means more games live and free for our fans and gives grass roots and elite clubs and organisations immense financial benefits.”