Nine yet to commit to NRL return date, set up meeting with Fox

Channel Nine has held what was described as a "productive" meeting with ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys but has not committed to a date for the return of the NRL season.

It comes as plans were put in place for Nine to meet with Foxtel in the coming days to discuss the potential for the broadcast partners to renegotiate their current arrangement, which sees Fox Sports simulcast all eight games.

Nine boss Hugh Marks, who savaged the NRL executive team last week, held a face-to-face meeting with V'landys on Tuesday morning to begin sorting out a plan for the competition's return.

Nine CEO Hugh Marks after leaving Racing NSW following a meeting with ARLC chairman Peter V’landys.Credit:Louie Douvis – Sydney Morning Herald

Nine, the publisher of this masthead, is reluctant for the code to rush back into the season and wants to renegotiate its broadcast arrangement as a result of the effect of the coronavirus pandemic.

The NRL is desperate to return, possibly as early as May 28, and had hoped to have the support of Nine, but there is plenty of work to be done.

"Today Nine CEO Hugh Marks and I had a constructive and co-operative meeting about rugby league in 2020 and beyond," V'landys said.

"I am buoyed by Mr Marks’ support of rugby league and his commitment to the game. The meeting provided us with the opportunity to outline our positions and discuss next steps to navigate this crisis.

"We are both focused on the long-term success of the game and, while there is more work to do, I am optimistic we will find a way through this together. Our next meeting, where we will endeavour to construct a road map for the game this year, must include Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany."

On Tuesday morning, Marks walked to Nine's Willoughby office parking lot to inform a Herald photographer and a Nine News cameraman to give up the chase; that V'landys wasn't coming.

V'landys, knowing Nine had previously been irked by details of confidential meetings being reported in the media, wasn't about to spill the beans.

"Confidential," was all he would say when asked if the meeting was still going ahead.

Soon after, Marks hopped in a cab bound for Druitt Street in Sydney, the head office of Racing NSW. No cameras.

When he left 90 minutes later, Herald photographer Louie Douvis, who in the morning had been told to give up the chase, asked Marks how the meeting went?

Marks, who left with his notebook in hand, shrugged his shoulders and said: "Peter is a nice guy".

Hugh Marks on his way out of a meeting with Peter V’landys at Racing NSW offices in Sydney’s CBD.Credit:Louie Douvis – Sydney Morning Herald

Nine wanted answers on a few key items. The first is an indication on what V'landys intends to do about the NRL's "bloated head office". There is no doubt V'landys will change that.

Nine also wants the NRL to use this period to come up with fresh ideas to rejuvenate the game for the long-term benefit of the code and its clubs – a work in progress.

The third, and probably most important, is that it will sit down with Fox and talk about the current deal.

Nine has a deal with Fox, which pays the free-to-air network for the rights to simulcast games. Nine is expected to adopt a less-is-more approach, hoping for more exclusive and in-demand content.


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