Sky TV close to NRL screening deal

By Steve Deane

Photo / File
Photo / File

Sky TV appears close to clinching a deal that would see it retain the rights to screen NRL matches in New Zealand.

Having agreed a one-year deal this time last year to cover the 2012 season, Sky and the NRL have been in negotiations for several months over a long-term deal that will run concurrently with the five-year, A$1 billion broadcast rights deal inked by Fox and Channel Nine in Australia.

With the NRL season due to kick off in just eight days time, the clock is ticking. While both parties could conceivably go beyond that date - with Sky broadcasting matches on a 'good faith' basis - there are signs a deal is close.

"It's positive," Sky chief executive John Fellet said of the state of negotiations. "We keep talking and keep trying to find the middle ground, so that's alway a good sign."

Australian Rugby League Commission [ARLC] general manager of special projects Shane Mattiske also indicated negotiations were progressing well. The ARLC had not considered a contingency plan should a deal with Sky not be reached, Mr Mattiske said.

"Our focus is still on getting the deal done and we are confident that is a realistic proposition," he said. "We are deep into the negotiation process."

The unconfirmed recruitment of Australian veteran Andrew Voss as a lead commentator for Warriors matches is another signal Sky is confident it will secure a product that is a major subscriber driver.

Sky would not comment on Mr Voss's status, however his presence at the microphone in Dunedin for the trial match against the Broncos was a strong indicator he is next in line to fill a commentary role that has changed hands three times in as many years.

Mr Voss appears to have fallen out of favour at Channel Nine after pursuing a defamation suit against fellow commentator Ray Hadley following a public spat over a statue of fellow commentator Ray Warren.

A Sky spokeswoman said the network could not comment on the commentary situation, or any league matters, until a broadcast deal was signed.

Sky's deal with the NRL has previously been reported as worth $14 million a season. The ARLC is understood to have been seeking an increase on that figure in line with what was achieved in Australia, however Sky is understood to be resistant to a major increase.

Asked if Sky and the newly-formed [ARLC] were close to finding some middle ground on the value of the broadcasting rights, Mr Fellet said: "hope so".

While Sky acknowledged the NRL's importance to its customer base, it was wary of paying too much for a product that suffered a ratings decline following the Warriors' poor performance last season.

"If you get it at too high a price an asset can quickly switch to a liability, which is what the summer Olympics was for us," Mr Fellet said. "That burned us. Our subscribers want us to go out and get all content, I get that, but they also want us to get it at a reasonable price."

The protracted negotiation had affected Sky's ability to promote its coverage, a factor that likely impacted on last season's ratings when that negotiation also went down to the wire. The move to negotiate just a one-year deal for 2012, resulting in further uncertainty this year, was at the NRL's insistence, Mr Fellet said.

"If it was up to me we would have had a [long-term] deal a year ago," he said. "A similar sort of thing happened last year. If you're an avid watcher of Sky you'll see all the promotion we are doing around rugby - we'd like to have done that on the league as well. We always say earlier the better but these are big deals with a lot of money involved."

While a deal now appears likely, Mr Fellet said no announcement was imminent.

"Trust me I will climb the highest building and shout it to the top as soon as I get a deal."


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