A Deal with the Devil

Filed in Other by on August 22, 2012

Make no mistake: the NRL does not run rugby league. Nor does the ARLC. It is David Gyngell who runs rugby league. The NRL doesn't need a CEO. It already has a dictator, whose demeanour and belligerence at Tuesday's press conference made it quite clear who was playing the role of Milton Berle.

One minute into that press conference and it was pretty damned obvious who was running the show and it wasn't those charged with running the show.

There was genuine optimism that John Grant and his team would break the old power nexus that has controlled rugby league for much of the last two decades. That optimism was shattered on Tuesday when the NRL awarded incumbent rights holders Nine and Fox Sports the broadcast rights for a further five years.

It was tremendously disappointing for all of those who genuinely believed that it was time for a fresh look, a new beginning, a deal that would bring home the bacon but set the agenda for who actually runs the game and give the broadcasting of the game the makeover it desperately needs.

The new deal has been widely praised by those in the game. John Grant called it "a simply fantastic result for rugby league". Canterbury CEO Todd Greenberg said " this gives the game what we deserve which, is a fair and reasonable return". RLPA boss David Garnsey said "It's what the players were looking for and it should give us a greater share of the game's revenue". David Gyngell, during his arrogant bluster, said "We have stepped up and paid as much money as we possibly could." It is unclear whether he meant Nine paid as much as it could or if the NRL sold itself out enough.

Among the faithful though, there has been nothing but despair. To many, the Nine brand is rightly regarded as sitting somewhere between Hitler and Sonny Bill Williams in the deepest circle of hell. Nine has bent the game over and sodomised it for the better part of two decades, disenfranchising rugby league fans, undercutting the growth of the code, asserting powers it should never have had and providing what can generally be regarded as a coverage that hovers between embarrassingly average and criminally poor.

Yet it has been given another five years to have its way with the code even after Ten reportedly offered to show four games a week live and were prepared to pay a mighty sum to do so.

Rugby league fans have long memories and the molestation by Nine was never going to be forgotten. Nor should it.

And Nine continues to eat at the fabric of the game.

There were some appalling new elements to this television deal. All revolve around Nine keeping the rights.

Earlier this year, I wrote, when forecasting what will happen: "There are a number of likely contenders but the likelihood is that it will again be Fox Sports and Nine with Ten perhaps winning Monday night rights and Fox Sports having the right to simulcast all eight games. It will be a travesty if Nine is allowed back inside the tent but the network's whole image is wrapped up in rugby league and even though the station is riddled with debt, allowing Seven to pinch the rights would cripple Nine and leave it wallowing in mediocrity for five years. Nine will likely keep Friday night and Sunday afternoon but will be forced to show Sunday afternoon live. They will fight with Ten for Saturday afternoon, with Ten favoured to win Monday nights. Nine would again likely hold Origin rights though Seven is a very real chance of pinching the representative calendar. There will be a fixed schedule and games will be extended by the standardisation of breaks. Fox Sports will maintain 'Super Saturday' and a Sunday game and will benefit from the ability to simulcast all matches. The NRL will break $1 billion."

The rightful assumption was that in this modern world, rugby league fans would be able to get every game live. The AFL managed to cut such a deal. Yet for rugby league fans, David Gyngell just laughed, saying one live match a week on free-to-air television would suffice. He kicked the game fair in the bollocks and is winding up to go again. He could not have been more dismissive of the prospect of there being two games on Nine not shown live. Totally unapologetic.

Rugby league fans, of course, weren't surprised. This is the contempt Nine has always shown for the game. The surprise came in the ARLC's decision to agree to a deal where Nine did not increase its live coverage or an agreement on simulcasting was not reached. To not have every game shown live is an embarrassment the code must endure for a further five years.

No major sport in the world has such poor broadcasting terms. To accept so when a network was prepared to give the game four live matches a week defies belief.

The lack of live coverage is certainly the most shameful element of the new deal. There was very little change to the current weekly schedule. Nine will keep its two Friday games. Gyngell said he would never put the Queensland game on a digital channel in NSW and vice-versa. The only reprieve will be three Thursday night matches. Nine will also keep its 4pm Sunday slot, refusing to show the match live. Fox Sports will keep its Super Saturday, its live Sunday, its Monday night and for 13 games, broadcast a Sunday evening game. There will be no Saturday afternoon games. There will still be just six matches broadcast live per week.

Nine have again agreed to broadcast into every state, either on their primary channel or their digital station. A similar agreement was made last time, which the NRL refused to enforce. I'll believe Nine will stick to these terms when I see it and not before.

This is the same old shit sandwich we have been fed time and time again.

It was made abundantly obvious throughout the press conference on Tuesday that Nine still has its hands on the game's cojones. The game must now endure a night Grand Final for another five years. Enjoy the twilight Grand Final for the last time. Players' hopes for standalone rep weekends were roundly dismissed by Nine. There is a fixed schedule for the first 20 rounds – a very good thing – but be sure and certain that it will be far from balanced with David Gyngell almost promising that the Broncos will be on Nine every Friday night. The certainty it provides is excellent but Nine will still figure a way to program the season. If Canberra get two Friday night games next year and the Broncos fewer than 14, I'll eat my hat. Expansion is on the backburner because Nine talked down its value because they do not own their Perth affiliate.

Hearts have sunk. Rugby league fans wanted Nine out. They wanted the code to control its own destiny. Rugby league got neither.

There was plenty of good in the deal though and it deserves recognition.

The money was fantastic and when the digital and New Zealand rights are added, it is going to be well over $1.15 billion for the game with a cash component that will border right on the $1 billion mark. The game was desperate for a big influx of cash – this will have long-lasting ramifications and will hopefully be spent wisely. This money cannot just go straight to the players. It must go to country rugby league, player development, funding a proper digital model, bringing proper professionalism into refereeing, helping clubs, assisting the international game and expanding the game.

The other major boon for rugby league is the removal of the first and last rights provisions owned by Nine and Fox Sports. These rights ensured the code could never fully shake the nemesis that is Nine as well as Fox Sports. John Grant spoke early and with excitement about these. He was right. This gives the game back total control of its future. Nine and Fox Sports will now enter the next negotiations with no advantage other than that of incumbency. Perhaps this deal was simply the blow-off gift to Nine.

The fixed schedule is a significant change and one that should act in the interest of the game and its fans. The first 20 rounds will be locked in when the draw is released with the final six rounds settled by round 16. The certainty this brings to fans and teams should see a major spike in crowds. There will only be fairness – in terms of turnarounds and free-to-air exposure – if the NRL shows some bottle and sets the fixture without interference from Nine. This would appear unlikely to happen with Gyngell saying that "you play when we say".

There is no questioning the will or the thoroughness of the commission. They squeezed balls, crossed Ts and patted backs. They made it happen.  But they misjudged the climate. There was certainly a need for getting a good dollar out of the broadcaster but there was a want for an improvement in the coverage of the game – and the code got nothing on that front.

David Gyngell said at Tuesday's announcement: "We could not be a party to anything that may affect the great product that rugby league is."

Yet that Nine has been a party to affecting the game in a negative way and it will continue to be. How Gyngell could say that with a straight face is beyond me.

The one lesson I have come to learn yet always seem to forget in rugby league is that never expect too much because you always end up disappointed. This deal certainly has its positives and it might even scrape a pass mark but the disillusionment created by keeping Nine as the rights holder is crippling and will forever tarnish this historic deal.

Rugby league got its cash. But it sold its soul to the devil to get it.



Comments (8)

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  1. Anonymous says:


    Welcome to the brave new world of NRL’s TV rights! A billion dollars! You heard right!


    Keep your eyes on the figure, more than double the last deal! Oh boy, what a day for Rugby League! Just look at the cheap backslapping and smugness of those involved. It’s a great day to be a commissioner or TV executive that’s for sure!


    Hold on sir, you’re a fan are you? Well not only will you get to receive the fantastic coverage channel nine offers of one live game a week!! The continuation of two delayed game will really tickle you fancy! In fact, you will for all intensive purposes, receive exactly what you have for the last 5 years. Cheap coverage, by a channel built on the sodomisation of Rugby League, with zero interest in growing the game. Enjoy!


    Insularism and cannibalisation have always marred rugby league. However to once again allow channel 9 the rights has just about finished rugby league for me. Chasing a billion dollars may get the players a handy pay rise, help clubs continue to run at a loss, and serve the chronic fear of the AFL through a laughable ‘pound for pound’ analogy. The fans however, will continue to be held under the toilet while channel 9 and John Grant take dumps on them from their private boxes. Rugby League administration has always been laughable, I’m laughing through tears today!

  2. Anonymous says:

    This deal truely is a joke. The buddy-Buddy attitude and choking smugness of Gyngell and Grant said it all. If there were not some underhand deals going on i would be truly shocked. 

    I have never had pay tv, growing up in a rural area this wasn't feasable for a variety of reasons. I have watched over the years as the AFL's coverage has grown past that of the NRL in a rugby league area (southern Tablelands). To have ONE(!) live game a week available to an avid fan makes me sick to my stomach. I honestly don't know if i can handle 5 more years of moronic commentary, terrible scheduleing, delayed coverage and the great game being vigourously fisted again and again by a network based on the sodimisation of RL.

    It boggles the mind that they would pass up the reported channel 10 offer. Stubborn insularism has always been RL downfall and contineued to be with a short term fixation on the magical billion dollars more important that more RL content for fans. I am an avid raiders fan, i look forward to our array of games that nine will no doubt show….. weep for me, weep for the raiders and all the other low rating teams, but most importantly, weep for rugby league.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Here's my take on it – IMHO 9 treats the game like a cheap whore taking advantage at every turn, and feeding it's habit when it has to.

    Oh well the fans get it in the neck (and hip pocket) again !!

    If you're a FTA watcher then you already know what you're getting a single live game on Friday and 2 delayed games but because you're good you will also get 3 Thursday night games ( bet Brisbane won't get any of those ) and a 5 evening Grand Finals – just what you wanted eh…?

    If you have Foxtel it's the same old 5 live games and everything else on delay.

    If you're a Queenslander your Broncos will get every home game on a Friday night after work so they get a 7 day turnaround for at least 12 rounds each season for 5 years and an unfair advantage over every other team ( BTW how many MNF will they get 1 a year is my guess) and if you're a Raiders fan without Foxtel then you'll be staying up late unless your team starts playing a lot better, I should put Victorian RL fans in the same boat – get those matchsticks out.

    If you're a player well more money but SOO and Test match schedules hasn't changed so be prepared to pay with your body for the extra effort.

    It's us the fans who support our teams watch the coverage and buy the sponsors products, I wonder if we made more of an effort to go to the games live and not watch Channel 9 and bought the non sponsors products instead, would that make a difference, would the powers that be change their thinking and give us back OUR GAME?

    Can you guess that a lot of fans are unhappy because we have been dudded again this time by the ARLC, you have let us down badly – we will not forget and NEIN if you start playing with the schedule again and blame ratings then you'll lose me as a viewer and your advertiser will also cop an earfull. 

  4. Anonymous says:

    Well written but I think you will eat your words on the 20 Round pre scheduling. 

    We will get the same teams over and over again, with very little sharing. I actually hope the Broncos are good next year because otherwise friday nights are going to become yoga night.

    Also, why the obsession with live games on TV? Get your butt off the coach and go sit in the stand. You never know, we might actually get a decent atmosphere at a game in Sydney on a Saturday.

    I have moved to the UK but remain a paying member of my club. One surprising thing about the Premier League is that they play 6 games at 3pm Saturday, not a single game shown live on TV, not even pay. There are big, passionate crowds and this adds to the international appeal.

    Why? Because it looks good to have people shouting, screaming and singing. Why would foreigners tune into the NRL when only 10,000 show up for a casual picnic and the odd wave of a flag?

    • Nick Tedeschi says:

      I go to two, sometimes three live games a week mate. Don't talk to me about getting to games. This has nothing to do with live coverage though. The AFL's crowd numbers have not been hurt by live television. It is bollocks to suggest otherwise.

      • campbellnorwood says:


        Apologies Nick I was not talking about your individual attendance. Even if passionate fans averaged one live game per week we wouldn't have an issue. I am referring to any fan who would rather live Channel 9 than the hill at Leichhardt. Lets call them casual fans, with competing priorities, who I personally would like to see encouraged to get to games.

        Crowd attendance 'has nothing to do with live coverage though' you say. To suggest this would be bollocks? Seriously?

        Average AFL crowds in 2012 are at their lowest since 1996! (footywire.com)

        Surprisingly they can't just blame the low average on the crap expansion teams: Collingwood and Hawthorn are both the lowest in several years, despite flying high in the top 4. Now this might be because of weather or earthquakes or something, but I don't watch AFL so I dont care. Live TV certainly isn't helping AFL game attendance. 

        The AFL has a culture of live attendance, League less so. Why? League is better to watch on TV because the teams fit in screen shot and ball movement is more predictable. League is actually perfect for TV, therefore there are less reasons to attend a game rather than watch live on ch 9.  (this is why League kills other sports in TV ratings, despite not necesarily having better crowds.  Its fact, not emotion)

        So we have a balancing act: We want more live games on free to air, but if this causes crowds to drop too much we will want something else changed. In general the NRL over reacts, and we need to be very careful what we wish for. 

        Classic over reaction: 20 rounds of prescheduling. We are about to get 15 games of pre scheduled Broncos on Friday nights. This is now predictable and bad for the game. The NRL has a salary cap which means the best teams change each year. We need some flexibility. The Roosters went from the spoon to grand final in 2009/10. So who is going to predict 2013? Gyngell will, and we are now screwed unless you happen to go for one of the few best TV rating clubs. A simple solution would have been a little more prescheduling combined with some guarantees to share the free to air games more fairly.

        Hopefully I am wrong on all points and will gladly eat my words.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think considering where the last deal was and where this one is now I think it is a huge improvement. My only issue is with the games not being shown live.

    Taking back control of the game doesn't happen overnight. I felt this was a step in the right direction and the next deal will be even better. I would expect that in 5-10 years the game will be able to run itself completely on its own and not have to bend to the whim of others.

    I am hoping to see that this money goes to those who need it and not just the players. Clubs and development would be top of my list. ARLC needs a plan. It is one thing to have the cash but entirely another to spend it wisely.

  6. SemiiPro says:

    I am 100% with you on this. Along with Laurie Daley named NSW coach, yesterday was the saddest day in Rugby League history.

    It’s now obvious why Gallop was punted. Grant is a Channel 9 man through and through. Gallop wasn’t. Gyngell got his bitch. Gallop would NOT have folded like Grant. And jeez, isn’t Gyngell tough with other people’s money.

    What a disgrace.