Nine Network could gain hundreds of thousands of viewers a week should it successfully renegotiate exclusive rights to its NRL broadcast deal.
The free-to-air (FTA) broadcaster will head into crisis talks with the NRL and Fox Sports on Thursday in what shapes as a crucial step towards a May 28 competition restart.
Among the key discussion points is likely to include the length of a restructured season and how much the broadcasters will be willing to fork, with the game on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, another key agenda item is expected to be the simulcast arrangement between Nine and Fox Sports covering three matches a week.
Across the opening two rounds of this year’s competition, Fox Sports averaged almost 250,000 viewers a game while broadcasting the same fixture as Nine.
Reclaiming some of those numbers could prove valuable for the FTA network, which lost almost 100,000 viewers per game after agreeing to the deal in 2016.
According to the NRL’s annual report from that season, the game’s cumulative audience rose by a whopping 14 million after the switch.
Fox Sports’ cumulative viewers that year, the first in which every game was live, increased from 26.4m to 48.7m, while Nine dropped from 71.4m to 63.3m.
It also coincided with the introduction of regular Thursday night football and the scrapping of the delayed game on Friday night.
It means any such change to the broadcast agreement could affect the game’s total viewership.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys insisted the matter wasn’t discussed during his peace talks with Nine on Tuesday.
“That’s a matter, if it was to be raised, which is between the two broadcasters,” V’landys told AAP this week.
“It has nothing to do with the NRL.
“We have two contracts and we’ll honour both contracts.
“That’s the beauty of having the two broadcasters and ourselves in the room.
“We’ll come to a resolution we’re all happy with.”
The NRL is expected to salvage as much of the season as possible in attempt to secure as much money out of their broadcast deals with Nine and Fox Sports as they can.
That could result in the competition being pushed as deep as December, which would clash with a number of summer sports.
One potential major hurdle is the inclusion of the Warriors, who will need to gain a federal government exemption to enter Australia during the coronavirus crisis.
The desperate talks with broadcasters this week coincide with reports the NRL has secured a $250 million loan from a group of London financial institutions.
The developments have resulted in Nine positioning itself to land a long-term broadcast extension on its current deal with the NRL, which expires in 2022.
That could, however, come at a decreased rate given the current economic climate, with South Sydney chief Blake Solly admitting this week he was preparing for a reduced salary cap.
Network Ten is reportedly watching the situation with interest, while Seven Network publicly expressed an interest as recently as last October.
V’landys was reluctant to divulge whether a longer-term deal has been discussed.
“Naturally that’s commercially confident,” he said.
“In saying that, a variety of things were raised but it was all putting each other’s positions on the table.”