NRL TV rights innovation to spark major bidding war
In an unprecedented move, the NRL is considering carving up the rugby league season program and engaging up to three free-to-air networks to televise rugby league matches in the next broadcast deal.
And the development, similar to that employed by the American NFL, has been met with immediate and united support from NRL club chief executives.
The ARL Commission is considering mixing up the rugby league landscape with rival networks to bid for NRL games, State of Origin, finals and the grand final.
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With different games showing on separate free-to-air carriers, there is a chance that games could soon be telecast on Nine, Seven and Ten.
If the model is implemented, Channel 9's longstanding monopoly over rugby league would end.
ARLC chairman Peter V'Landys revealed on Sunday that rugby league had "substantial interest" from multiple free-to-air stations.
While Fox Sports has five years left on its deal, the current free-to-air TV deal expires after next season with the NRL having already started top-level discussions with all networks.
"Peter, Andrew (Abdo, NRL CEO) and the commission will be trusted with achieving the best financial outcome for the sport," said Souths CEO, Blake Solly. "But outside the best financial deal possible, I think there would be other benefits in having two or three FTA broadcasters.
"As rights holders they would immediately be invested in promoting the NRL, players and clubs to the biggest possible audience and this would help the sport keep and find new fans.
"The more broadcasters and outlets supporting the growth of the NRL competition and rugby league, the better for mine".
Raiders CEO Don Furner added: "The more free-to-air coverage, the better for the game, particularly in other states. One-hundred per cent of people have free-to-air.
"It's no wonder there is interest. Our game is fantastic to watch, it's a fantastic TV product. We have faith in Peter maximising the best deal for the game."
V'landys told The Big Sports Breakfast Weekend on Sky Sports Radio he was interested in sharing rugby league around the FTA channels.
"For the first time we have actually got substantial interest from other TV stations. Rugby league is in a good position to get a very good deal," he said.
"That is one option to us - you might have two free-to-airs broadcasters. You may have three free-to-air broadcasters on different days on different nights - State of Origin, grand final, semi-finals. You can split them up into different packages.
"I have just been studying the NFL deal and they have about six or seven partners that do specific games. I can't see why we can't do that here. Exclusivity is going to be a lot more expensive this time around, being able to provide it to a number of parties."
Asked would Australia have enough stations interested in covering NRL, V'landys said: "I believe so and each network has expressed interest.
"At the moment, because of the competition that the free-to-air channels have, they really do rely on news, sport and reality shows. You have Stan and Netflix that provide all the other dramas and comedies so the free-to-air, they have to attract people by their news, sport and reality and sport is very, very high on that list.
"That is why the free-to-air stations will certainly be interested is us because we are a rare commodity. I want to stress the people I want to look after are the fans and to make sure the fans have every opportunity to access rugby league.
"The free-to-air deal, not only is it financially beneficial to us but it's also provides eyeballs. Free-to-air goes to every home whereas Foxtel goes to 27, 28 per cent of the market.
"So, for us, it's very important for us to enable rugby league to be watched by as many people as possible."
A number of senior rugby league figures have been shocked by Nine's relentless push to promote the ratings-challenged rugby union on Stan while virtually ignoring any ads promoting the start of NRL season.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that Channel 7 boss James Warburton has also told network employees of a plan to axe cricket, prompting speculation his station wants NRL.
Originally published as NRL TV rights innovation to spark major bidding war