Broadcaster accuses NRL of ‘mismanagement’ as league announces plans to recommence on 28th May
A remarkable day in the management of the NRL has seen the code announce plans to restart its season on 28th May, having been accused by broadcaster the Nine Network of financial "mismanagement" and breaking its lucrative television deal.
Despite ongoing lockdowns due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) made the announcement about wanting the Premiership season to resume late next month following a meeting with the NRL's innovations committee.
The decision was announced after Nine released a statement on Thursday morning criticising the NRL's financial management, which it claimed had left clubs and players facing uncertain futures.
Meetings of the NRL’s Innovation Committee and the ARLC were held on this before the ARL Commissioner, Wayne Pearce, confirmed the intention to get the league back under way in seven weeks’ time.
Amid speculation that the season would consist of 15-rounds, 10 less than originally scheduled prior to the Coronavirus-enforced shutdown, was being considered it later emerged that the league is looking at completing all 25 rounds, which would result in a November grand final.
Pearce, who also heads up Project Apollo, the panel charged with finding a way of getting the season back up and running, advised “the details on the competition structure we haven’t got yet because the landscape is changing around government boundaries.
“Today what we landed on was a starting date. We haven’t finalised what that (competition) looks like yet. Why we want to firm up a date is to give certainty to players and their schedules, clubs and thousands of people who are out of work through clubs and millions of fans.
“It’s a mark for everyone to work towards that’s associated with the game.”
Expanding on the announcement, ARLC Chairman Peter V'landys stated “the (Coronavirus) situation is changing dramatically and we need to get moving.
"It is in the best interests of our clubs, our players, our stakeholders and importantly our fans that the competition resumes as quickly and as safely as possible.
"We have said right from the start that what we say today may need to change tomorrow.
"We will be flexible, and if the trend changes or if government restrictions change then so will we. The health and safety of our players and the general public remains the absolute priority."
The NRL season was suspended after two rounds last month because of Coronavirus fears, with the league having made the decision a day after the AFL announced it was shutting down its competition.
In making its decision, it appears that Nine has been left out of discussions on what the season would look, prompting scathing criticism from the broadcaster.
In a statement, it advised "at Nine we had hoped to work with the NRL on a solution to the issues facing rugby league in 2020, brought on so starkly by COVID-19.
"But this health crisis in our community has highlighted the mismanagement of the code over many years."
Nine said it had provided the NRL with a substantial financial investment during its tenure as the competition's free-to-air broadcaster, adding "Nine has invested hundreds of millions in this game over decades and we now find they have profoundly wasted those funds with very little to fall back on to support the clubs, the players and supporters.
"In the past the NRL have had problems and we've bailed them out many times, including a $50 million loan to support clubs when the last contract was signed.
"It would now appear that much of that has been squandered by a bloated head office completely ignoring the needs of the clubs, players and supporters.
"We now find ourselves with a contract that is unfulfilled by the code. We hoped we could talk through a long-term plan."
In response, Pearce said the ARL Commission wanted to continue working with the Nine Network, advising “they're a key partner for us and we intend to fulfil our contractual obligations.
"We hope to maintain a working relationship that will work for both parties."
Advising that the NRL was still planning to work with Nine for the rest of the season and honour the $1.8 billion deal signed with the broadcaster and Foxtel in 2015, Pearce added “they’re a key partner for us and we intend to fulfil our contractual obligations. We hope to maintain a working relationship that will work for both parties.”
A November finish for the NRL would mean a clash with the men’s T20 World Cup, whose broadcast rights are also owned by the Nine Network.
Up to four cricket matches would coincide with possible NRL finals fixtures.
Images: The NRL's Provan-Summons Trophy [the former Telstra Premiership Grand Final Trophy] (top) and ARLC Chairman Peter V'landys (below).
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