The NRL free-to-air TV rights are a done
deal. The Nine Network’s offer of $40 million is done and dusted and
remains on the table, despite the seven-day deadline expiring. And why?
Because it will be considered and signed-off on Friday at the NRL
Partnership Committee meeting. That’s when the NRL club representatives
from the Australian Rugby League and the representatives from News Ltd
come together and decide that what News Ltd wants it gets.

year it was “no” to a 16th club, this Friday it will be “yes” to the
Gold Coast from 2007, with the new TV deal being approved.

Why am I so confident? Because it was announced by the News Ltd house journal, The Weekend Australian,
on its sports pages. And here’s the key paragraph: “It’s also
understood the TV deal will come into effect from next season when
rubber-stamped by the partnership next week.”

But what about the
radio and pay TV rights? Some in the game are claiming the pay TV
business will generate another $50 million a year, but with only half a
million or so people watching pay TV at any one time in prime time,
compared to the average prime time free-to-air audience of 4.4 million,
the figure seems awfully high.

What it does represent is an
attempt by News Ltd to get Telstra and Foxtel subscribers to pay more
money (just like the Packers will get advertisers to finance the higher
price for the new rights).

News Ltd owns half of the NRL and
has around half a billion dollars invested in the game. It also owns
25% of Foxtel and 50% (with PBL) of Fox Sports through its holding in
Premier Media. For News, it’s all a pea and thimble trick when it comes
to rugby league – but Telstra has a lot of trouble seeing where the pea
ends up.