Expansion plan sweetener in TV talks

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Winging it
EXPANSION plans that include the possibility of the competition increasing by two teams, staggered over two years, have been flagged during negotiations with television networks on the new broadcast deal.

Industry insiders have told the Herald of a number of developments in negotiations involving the Nine, Fox, Seven and Ten networks with the ARLC's negotiating team, led by Graeme Samuel from the advisory firm Greenhill Caliburn. They include the commission's desire to have a fourth club game shown on free-to-air each week, on Saturday nights, and also to have all free-to-air games simulcast on Fox Sports, in a similar arrangement to the one Fox has with the AFL.
It is believed that, after each of the networks were given briefings by Samuel and his team on Tuesday, the negotiations will heat up before the end of the month. The new deal is likely to be finalised in September - right in the middle of the finals series.
''September could be even bigger for rugby league than everyone thinks,'' one insider said. ''The finals will be on - on and off the field.''
But while there have been suggestions the league's new deal could be worth up to $1.25 billion over five years - matching the AFL's television deal - insiders say $1 billion will more likely be the upper limit.
''The AFL has nine games a week to league's eight, plus there is 30 per cent more advertising time available in AFL games, so people are naive to think league can get as much as AFL,'' an insider said. ''If they can get more than $1 billion, they will have done a damn fine job.''
Speculation about expansion has been ongoing in recent years, and there is a growing list of groups that are prepared to financially back the introduction of new teams. Brisbane, Perth and Central Queensland are regarded as the front-running spots, ahead of Central Coast.
The ARLC, like the NRL before it, was not prepared to go ahead with expansion until the new TV deal was in place, and insiders say that, ideally, the commission would like to add one or two teams during the five-year life of the deal.
But introducing two new teams in one year is seen as a risk, because of the distinct possibility both could struggle in their early stages. That has created the possible scenario of one team being introduced in 2015, with a weekly bye that season, and another team the following year. Insiders
predict that whatever the successful networks end up having to pay for the new deal will be what it is worth, because the league's negotiating team is first-class.
''The networks have got a stiff fight on their hands,'' an insider said. ''There is talk [ARLC chairman] John Grant is obsessed with attention, but the fact is he's really switched on when it comes to driving a business, and Graeme Samuel and [acting ARLC chief executive] Shane Mattiske are doing a great job up front.
''The current league negotiators are better placed to handle these type of negotiations than the game has been in the past. They are tough and smart. It's more professional than the cricket, and much more like the AFL. David Gallop was hamstrung by News Ltd's involvement in the game in the past.
''Mattiske is making a good impression in negotiations. If he plays this right he could be an underdog for the commission CEO's role. He's a frank, straight-shooting, passionate sort of guy. Professional negotiators have given the league the chance to get the best possible outcome.''
The negotiating team reports to a sub-committee comprising Grant, Ian Elliot, Jeremy Sutcliffe and Gary Pemberton, representing the ARLC.
The ARLC has told the networks what it would like from the deal, in terms of scheduling arrangements. Insiders say it is not only keen on a free-to-air game on Saturday nights, but also having all of the free-to-air games simulcast on Fox, which is what happens with the AFL.
Whether any of this becomes a reality is going to come down to the hard-edged negotiations that will begin soon. The networks are planning their next moves, and at this stage all elements of the game - club and representative - remain up for grabs.
Insiders say that - apart from the obvious, that Nine and Fox want to keep what they have got, three games and five games a week respectively - Seven is mainly interested in getting one club game a week and the ratings crown in the jewel, State of Origin. And indications are that Ten is serious about hacking off a big chunk of the league pie.
It was reported yesterday that Ten is close to finalising the sale of its outdoor advertising business, Eye Corp, for between $125 million and $150 million. That would obviously boost its chances of being able to buy big into league. And it is understood Seven is also in the process of making a major capital-raising move.
''The talk is that Ten are going to throw everything at league,'' an insider said.
The unprecedented interest in the game from the networks will inevitably mean an even better coverage.
''The viewer is going to be the big winner,'' an insider said. ''League is already a great television product, but it's going to get even better.''

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-league/league-news/expansion-plan-sweetener-in-tv-talks-20120712-21yy3.html#ixzz20RkbtEJ5

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