The Courier-Mail

LEAGUE’S BILLION DOLLAR FUTURE

$925M DEAL BUYS ALL NRL, ORIGINS AND TESTS FOUR LIVE GAMES A WEEK ON FREE-TO-AIR ORIGIN II ON A SUNDAY NIGHT NRL TO CONTROL SCHEDULE DIGITAL AND PAY TV DEAL TO COME FIXTURES REDUCED TO 25 ROUNDS

- CHRIS GARRY

THE NRL’s record broadcast rights deal with Channel 9 is a game-changer that will saturate prime-time television with rugby league.

It will put $925 million into the game over five years and alter scheduling, with next year’s State of Origin II to be played on a Sunday night.

It is the most money an Australian free-to-air network has spent on sport.

From Thursday to Saturday, NRL will be prime time on the Nine Network, while the station will also screen a Sunday afternoon game.

The increase from three to four free-to-air games is why Nine will spend almost twice the amount of money it is now paying (about $100 million a year).

When Foxtel, digital and internatio­nal rights are secured, the NRL is expecting to reap close to $1.7 billion, the richest deal in Australian sport.

Foxtel will show the remaining four NRL matches each week and will likely simulcast Nine’s four live matches.

The competitio­n will be played over 25 rounds rather than 26.

Monday night football has been axed in favour of Thursday nights and there will only be one split round a season.

The NRL will also regain control of the schedule from Nine, meaning clubs will more evenly share prime-time exposure.

The deal however has all but killed any immediate hope of NRL expansion.

The Courier-Mail believes the only chance for a new Queensland team before 2023 is if the league decided to relocate a struggling Sydney club. The Origin landscape changes dramatical­ly too.

The second game of every series will be played on Sunday night on an NRL-free weekend where the only other content will be a Pacific Test.

THERE WILL BE MORE LIVE AND FREE RUGBY LEAGUE ON TELEVISION – AND THAT IS WHAT

THE FANS WANT NRL chief executive Dave Smith

The change in Origin schedule will placate increasing­ly angry players and coaches who believed the current draw was damaging players’ welfare.

The April Test between Australia and New Zealand has been scrapped with inter- national league to be played in a dedicated window after the NRL season.

NRL chief Dave Smith, who is under fire from some NRL club officials, said fans were the winner in this deal.

“For our fans, I want to make sure this is all about the

fans, this is a huge step forward,” he said.

“There will be more live and free rugby league on television – and that is what the fans want.

“And we still have simulcast rights, pay television, New Zealand and internatio­nal television rights to be negotiated.

‘‘So the future of the game is in great shape.

“There’s been a number of discussion­s about Origin and a number of other things.

‘‘We looked at different models.

“Origin is extremely valuable to this game. You meddle with it at your peril really.

‘‘Nearly 25 per cent of the country watches the (Origin) games.

“This model offers you better player welfare, less split rounds and the ability to condense the season. 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 new deal was almost for the same amount as the NRL earned for its entire current broadcast deal, including pay TV and digital rights.

Nine CEO David Gyngell admitted that the cost of the deal was crippling.

“It is the right deal for the company and its shareholde­rs,” Gyngell said last night. “But we’ve certainly paid for it.”

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 ??  ?? KICKING GOALS: Corey Parker lines up a kick for the Broncos; (main image) Queensland’s victorious Origin side; and (inset) NRL CEO Dave Smith.
KICKING GOALS: Corey Parker lines up a kick for the Broncos; (main image) Queensland’s victorious Origin side; and (inset) NRL CEO Dave Smith.
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