It’s the multimillion-dollar blunder that no one wants to talk about, but it’s made the NRL club bosses furious.
Two years ago, NRL supremo Peter V’landys handed Foxtel one of the biggest sweetheart deals in Australian media history and now the AFL is poised to make money.
Having just announced a massive $4.5 billion broadcast deal over seven years with Seven and Foxtel, starting in 2025, outgoing AFL boss Gillon McLachlan is heading into the sunset with his head held high and his sport’s coffers bulging.
V’landys, who hasn’t gone backwards in making pot shots at McLachlan and the AFL since stepping into the NRL’s top lane, can only put on a brave face and suck it up, but there’s no way around it.
He dropped the ball, big.
NRL clubs are fuming with Australian Rugby League Commission boss Peter V’landys after he gave the AFL a free kick in battle for codes
V’landys boasted that he saved Foxtel from destruction when he signed the TV rights to the code during the Covid pandemic. Now that decision is coming back to haunt him
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, V’landys sat down with Foxtel bosses and signed the pay-TV rights to the game for a bargain price estimated to be $200 million per year over five years.
V’landys recently told Fairfax reporter Andrew Webster that Foxtel was in dire straits at the time of the negotiations and “needed an asset on its sheet to continue its viability”.
The fact that Foxtel was simultaneously negotiating a two-year $946 million extension for its joint Channel 7 deal with the AFL seems to have been overlooked.
“If we hadn’t gotten into the game, there wouldn’t be a Foxtel,” V’landys said.
Which NRL club bosses could we have asked rightly: ‘And how is this our problem? We are a professional sports organization, not a charity.”
Just as they are now asking questions about the free-to-air deal with Channel Nine that V’landys signed last December.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan was walking around V’landys when he signed a deal that gives his code a $240 million per year advantage over the NRL — with that money sure to be used to convert more kids in Aussie Rules in rugby league’s heart regions
The Swans may have been beaten in the AFL Grand Final (pictured), but making it to the biggest game of the year dealt another blow to V’landys and the NRL
By contrast, reportedly at $115 million per season plus $15 million per year, it is only slightly more than the current deal and, when added to the Foxtel, international and radio rights, brings the total NRL broadcast deal to approximately $400 million per year. season.
That’s about $240 million a season less than the AFL deal, or, as the NRL club bosses would say, $240 million less to split among them.
V’landys is said to have told the clubs that he and his right-hand man Andrew Abdo had squeezed every cent out of Nine, and that there was nothing left in the kitty.
Which they might have swallowed if Nine hadn’t offered $500 million a season for the AFL rights early this month.
Given that their longtime partner Nine had, in fact, valued the league rights at $100 million a season less than the AFL rights, NRL club bosses have every right to feel a little angry.
And while no one has broken ranks and gone public – yet – it’s an open secret that there’s a lot of grumbling going on behind the scenes.
Once regarded as ‘The Messiah’ by rugby league fans and officials, V’landys has had a few setbacks in recent times, most notably his messy and unseemly feud with NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet over the hosting of the NRL Grand Final, ongoing controversy over umpires and the bunker, and now questions about his handling of the broadcasting rights.
McLachlan clearly outperformed V’landys at the negotiating table, and AFL football also scores goals against the NRL on the pitch.
The Sydney Swans reaching the AFL final against Geelong on Saturday was exactly the result that V’landys and NRL officials did not want.
Losses off the pitch – and on it: When the Swans played Collingwood on the same day Souths faced the Roosters in the NRL final, the former was the clear winner in crowd numbers
From their point of view, it’s bad enough that AFL is making huge strides among young people in rural areas of NSW and Queensland, without the Swans returning to their glory days with the SCG.
Two Saturdays ago, 45,600 people took to the ground to watch the Swans beat Collingwood by one point to reach the grand final. Later that evening, 39,700 next door at Allianz Stadium attended the NRL semi-final between the Rabbitohs and Sharks.
Some hardened souls went to both games, but it was remarkable that when NSW Premier Perrottet had to choose between the two, he went to the AFL.
Which brings us to the $4.5 billion question: What exactly is the AFL going to do with all that money?
The answer will not become clear until 2025, but one thing is certain: it will not be good news for the NRL.
It’s rumored that the AFL wants to buy up rectangular playing fields and turn them into ovals in non-heart areas, but it’s more likely that they’ll just keep doing what they’re doing, but do it bigger and better.
V’landys said his right-hand man at the NRL, Andrew Abdo (pictured, left) got every penny he could out of Channel Nine for the TV rights, just for the broadcaster and then offered an astonishing $500 million to support AFL games. to show
During COVID, the NRL was forced to cut $500 million a year from its bloated balance sheet and one area that was particularly hard hit was junior development, with development officials making up half of the league’s 400-strong workforce.
At the time, Steve Renouf, the former Broncos and Origin, expressed fears that the NRL would further open the door for the AFL’s junior Auskick program to take hold in the rural areas of Queensland and NSW.
As head of the Queensland Government’s Get Active school sports program in the early 2000s, he saw firsthand the power of the AFL junior development operation.
“We went to every state school in Queensland and wherever we went, Weipa, Cunnamulla, you name it, the AFL had already been there,” he said.
“All the kids had their Auskick hats and backpacks and water bottles. It was like a machine.’
And that was before they had $4.5 billion to throw around.