It’s the multi-million-dollar blunder that no-one wants to talk about, but it has left NRL club bosses seething.
Two years ago, NRL supremo Peter V’landys handed Foxtel one of the biggest sweetheart deals in Australian media history and now the AFL is poised to cash in.
Having just announced a massive $4.5billion broadcast deal over seven years with Seven and Foxtel starting in 2025, outgoing AFL boss Gillon McLachlan heads off into the sunset with head held high and his sport’s coffers bulging.
V’landys, who hasn’t been backward in taking pot shots at McLachlan and the AFL since he moved into the NRL’s top job, can only put on a brave face and suck it up, but there is no way around it.
He has dropped the ball, big time.
NRL clubs are seething with Australian Rugby League Commission boss Peter V’landys after he gave the AFL a free kick in the battle of the codes
V’landys boasted that he saved Foxtel from ruin when he signed away the code’s TV rights during the Covid pandemic. Now that decision is coming back to haunt him
At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, V’landys sat down with Foxtel bosses and signed away the pay TV rights to the game for a bargain basement price believed to be $200million a year over five years.
V’landys recently told Fairfax reporter Andrew Webster that at the time of negotiations Foxtel was in dire straits and ‘needed an asset on its sheet to continue its viability’.
The fact that at the same time Foxtel was negotiating a $946million, two-year extension to its joint Channel 7 deal with the AFL seems to have been overlooked.
‘If we didn’t come into play, there’d be no Foxtel,’ V’landys said.
To which NRL club bosses could rightly have asked: ‘And how is this our problem? We’re a professional sporting organisation, not a charity.’
Just as they are now asking questions about the free-to-air deal with Channel Nine that V’landys signed off on last December.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan ran rings around V’landys when he signed a deal that gives his code a $240-million-a-year advantage over the NRL – with that money sure to be put to use converting more kids to Aussie Rules in rugby league’s heartlands
The Swans may have been smashed in the AFL grand final (pictured), but the fact they made it to the year’s biggest game was another blow to V’landys and the NRL
Reportedly for $115million a season plus $15million a year in contra, it is only slightly more than the current deal and, when added to the Foxtel, international and radio rights, brings the total NRL broadcast deal to around $400million a season.
That is around $240million a season less than the AFL deal, or, as the NRL club bosses would say, $240million less to share among them.
V’landys is said to have told the clubs that he and his right-hand man Andrew Abdo had squeezed every cent out of Nine, and there was nothing left in the kitty.
Which they might have swallowed, if early this month Nine hadn’t bid $500million a season for the AFL rights.
Given that their long-time partner Nine had in effect valued the league rights at $100 million a season less than the AFL rights, NRL club bosses have every right to feel a bit miffed.
And while none have broken ranks and gone public – yet – it is an open secret that there are plenty of grumbles going on behind the scenes.
Once considered ‘The Messiah’ by rugby league fans and officials, V’landys has suffered a few setbacks in recent times, most notably his messy and unseemly tussle with NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet over the hosting of the NRL grand final, continued controversy over refereeing and the bunker, and now questions over his handling of the broadcast rights.
McLachlan clearly out-did V’landys at the negotiating table, and AFL football is kicking goals against the NRL on the field as well.
The Sydney Swans making their way into Saturday’s AFL grand final against Geelong was just the result V’landys and NRL officials didn’t want.
Losing off the field – and on it: When the Swans played Collingwood on the same day Souths took on the Roosters in the NRL finals, the former was the clear-cut winner in crowd numbers
From their point of view, it is bad enough that AFL is making huge inroads amongst youngsters in country areas of NSW and Queensland, without the Swans returning to their glory days at the SCG.
Two Saturdays ago 45,600 filed into the ground to watch the Swans beat Collingwood by a point to make it to the grand final. Later that night, next door at Allianz Stadium 39,700 attended the NRL semi-final between the Rabbitohs and Sharks.
Some hardy souls went to both matches but it was notable that when NSW Premier Perrottet had to choose between the two, he went to the AFL.
Which brings us to the $4.5 billion question: Just what is the AFL going to do with all that money?
The answer won’t become clear until 2025, but one thing is certain – it won’t be good news for the NRL.
There are whispers that the AFL is looking to buy up rectangular playing fields and turn them into ovals in non-heartland areas, but more likely they will just continue what they are doing but do it bigger and better.
V’landys said his right-hand man at the NRL, Andrew Abdo (pictured, left) got every cent he could out of Channel Nine for the TV rights, only for the broadcaster to then bid an astonishing $500million to screen AFL matches
During COVID, the NRL was forced to slash $500million a year from its bloated balance sheet and one area particularly hard hit was junior development, with development officers making up half of the league’s 400-strong workforce.
At the time former Broncos and Origin great Steve Renouf voiced his fears about the NRL opening the door wider for the AFL’s junior Auskick program to take a hold in Queensland and NSW country areas.
As head of the Queensland government’s Get Active school sport program in the early 2000s, he saw first-hand the strength of the AFL junior development operation.
‘We went to every government school in Queensland and wherever we went, Weipa, Cunnamulla, you name it, the AFL had already been there,’ he said.
‘All the kids had their Auskick hats and backpacks and water bottles. It was like a machine.’
And that was before they had $4.5billion to throw around.