NRL Under Fire From Within–Grant To Stay, For Now

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David Gallop Press Conference
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 05: ARLC Chairman John Grant speaks to the media at the announcement of the resignation of David Gallop as ARLC CEO at Rugby League Central on June 5, 2012 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

John Grant, the beleaguered Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman has been under pressure to resign, after many clubs indicated he no longer had their confidence. They were unhappy at changes to a proposed memorandum of understanding on club funding above the salary cap. The on-going saga had the NRL under fire, with meetings this week that only now, will see Grant stay on

Over the last few days, an Extraordinary General Meeting of the National Rugby League (NRL) saw Grant close to being removed. Last-minute negotiations saw an agreement reached after lengthy meetings with all NRL club representatives. Grant made concessions that will see agreement out of the ARLC to re-install annual grants at 30 per cent above the level of the yet-to-be-determined salary cap for 2018.

From all reports, the reaffirming of the Chairman’s position will see him end his term in February, 2018. After a 5 year reign, this roadblock almost derailed the value of the commission–established in 2012 from the embers of News Corporation/Australian Rugby League marriage. Installed with goals to protect against the number of salary cap breaches, this proposed agreement fallout looked to be the end for Grant, so the compromise seems to have satisfied his biggest detractors.

“Under this agreement, the clubs will have the long term financial security they have been seeking,” Grant said.

Extraordinary Circumstances Almost Cost Grant His Head

NRL chief executive officer Todd Greenberg was literally ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’. He is only a year into his role and finds the NRL under fire even before the 2017 season has even begun. This situation had blown up, causing ripples between many of the large, well financed clubs and the lower grades and grassroots.

One of the key motivators, the development and sustainability was important to all parties, and with a agreed 65 per cent increase in funding for grassroots rugby league, it was one of many articles that will have saved Grant from the axe.

The concessions will come into affect in 2018, but will also see strict controls put in place by that time. To reach this point, club’s faced concessions on some fronts: a foreseen explosion of football department spending is set to be stymied. Here, a compromise was reached on how much each club can spend ‘outside the salary cap’ in areas such as coaching, recruiting and centres of excellence. A 30% funding model above the salary cap level (TBC) is a way to halt more third-party payments–but there will always be pressures on wages and fringe benefits for players and head coaches.

The public will need to be convinced, and the ‘knives out appearance’ from the clubs may not have helped. Such division could have been lethal to the organization, unless a dressing was applied to the wound. That came in the form of successful bargaining; on top of the $1.8 billion broadcasting deal announced recently.

Biggest Broadcasting Deal in Australian Sport

The ARL Commission, Nine Network, News Corp Australia, FOX SPORTS, and Telstra have formed a partnership to provide free to air television, pay television and mobile coverage of Rugby League for five years from 2018.

70% higher than any previous deal, it had elements that are already in place. In 2017, more changes will see new match fixtures and a wider reach for NRL into Australia, New Zealand and their broadcast partner regions.

Under the package:

  • Telstra Premiership matches will reverting to four days a week (Thursday to Sunday) in 2017
  • From 2017 the Monday night game will be moved to Friday at 6pm
  • Nine Network will telecast games live and free to air on Thursday and Friday nights and Sunday afternoon in 2016
  • FOX SPORTS will show all eight games every weekend – including five exclusive telecasts each weekend. ‘Super Saturday’ featuring three live games, will be retained by FOX SPORTS
  • The last five Saturday night games of each season will be telecast on free to air television, in the build up to the Finals series
  • News Corp Australia will use its local media and newspaper resources to promote the game wherever it is played
  • And News will use its worldwide resources to take NRL on to the global stage where the NRL believe over time its incredible appeal will see an army of new fans emerge
  • Telstra will remain the naming rights partner of the NRL and will telecast the game digitally on its mobile network.

More Innovation in 2017

From 2017 FOX SPORTS will run a dedicated Rugby League channel – giving the game more exposure than any time in the game’s history. FOX SPORTS chief Patrick Delany believes that the NRL innovation will provide viewers with a better experience. Broadcast in ‘High Definition’ to FoxTel subscribers. the 2017 launch and build toward the finals will be the most fan-friendly since the ARLC was established.

“In another huge win for the sport, FOX SPORTS will launch a dedicated 24/7 Rugby League channel in 2017, giving fans what they have been asking for.”

Increased Revenue Brings Increased Tension

While it [broadcast deal] has brought with it many benefits, there are pressures on how the benefits will be distributed equitably. That has also brought tension. Some will say that the future looks bright, but internal squabbling undermines the NRL. It has had to withstand off-field issues before, player welfare and continued competition from other sports.

Such inner turmoil will have surely put cracks in the relationship of certain club bosses, Todd Greenberg (above) and the ARLC. While some threw their support behind Grant, the majority were unimpressed with the agreement maneuvers of the commission. Those issues may fester below the surface, which is something that Greenburg must attend to.

Greenberg conceded the very public spat over summer could have been handled better, but progress has been made. The common ground between the ARLC and the clubs must endure, with the 2017 season the final year before any funds distribution begin.

NRL Under Fire From Within

The game is fundamentally good. Very much ahead of rugby union in Australia, however it still is shaded by Australian Rules. The regional issues still exist, and the agreement does not consider any growth in the number of clubs–set at 16, it has stabilized even in the face of salary cap issues.

Those are still abound, and the role of John Grant and his team is to provide a base so that clubs do not attempt to curtail the system. Not in the form of protection, but a so-called ‘Sinking Fund’ will insure clubs have a form of security.

Those, and other conditions were agreed to in the latest meetings–and now sides can go away, enjoy the holidays. Rest and enjoy family-time, before returning in the New Year and toward the season start. All going well,  by the time of the NRL Nines in Auckland, the latest issues will have settled.

John Grant will step down from his role in the just over 12 months. Over that time, he must satisfy the clubs needs, along with stakeholders. A balancing act certainly, but if the on-field action is reported more widely than the administration, than Grant will be doing something right.

“Main photo credit”

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