Seven swoops amid Nine's nasty NRL spat
Channel 7 has reportedly put feelers out over the possibility of broadcasting NRL matches should Channel 9 relinquish the rights to one of its three games per round.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports Seven, which broadcasts the AFL, has approached the NRL to signal its interest in televising rugby league should the existing relationship between head office and Nine change.
According to the Herald, Seven West Media boss James Warburton has a close relationship with NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and the network is working towards a position "as a potential partner should the NRL need to seek an alternative free-to-air broadcaster".
Nine and the NRL have met this week after the code's free-to-air broadcaster, which shows matches on Thursday night, Friday night and Sunday afternoon, launched a blistering attack on the governing body, accusing it of financial mismanagement and excluding the network from talks around what this season will look like.
The 2020 campaign was suspended after two round because of coronavirus but the NRL has since announced it is hopeful of restarting the season on May 28.
That call has divided the footy world. Some are impressed the NRL has been aggressive in looking at options for a restart, while others have criticised the lack of information and details provided about how a resumption next month would work.
There have been reports Nine would prefer the season scrapped altogether rather than fork out money for a shortened season played in front of no crowds, because it would not represent the product it paid top-dollar for at the last broadcast rights negotiation.
If the season is wiped out, Nine would reportedly save approximately $130 million.
It doesn't look like the AFL will follow the NRL's lead in planning for a restart in May, after Victoria's state of emergency was extended until at least May 11. The existence of strict social distancing measures and travel restrictions would make it implausible to get the season underway again as normal.
Along with the AFL, Seven has the broadcast rights to the Australian summer of cricket (with Fox Sports) and this year's Tokyo Olympics, which have since been postponed until next year.
Add to the doubt around those codes' future plans the cancellation of Wimbledon, which Seven would have broadcast, and the network may have extra funds available to make a push for televising NRL.
Meanwhile, Nine will head into crisis talks with the NRL and Fox Sports today in what shapes as a crucial step towards a May 28 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 pay.
The NRL is expected to salvage as much of the season as possible in an 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 New Zealand-based 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, as is Seven.
Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V'landys was reluctant to divulge whether a longer-term deal has been discussed with Nine earlier in the week.
"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."
Originally published as Seven swoops amid Nine's nasty NRL spat