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NRL defends financial position heading into new rights cycle

Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) has dismissed concern over the financial state of the game after posting a A$3.7m (€2.4m/$3m) loss for 2017, stating the injection of fresh revenue from its impending new broadcast rights cycle will lead to a significant change in fortunes.

The NRL announced an average A$10.5m surplus across the past five years of the 2013-2017 rights cycle, but the past three years have seen a combined A$14.4m loss. The governing body had initially projected a A$20m shortfall for 2017 alone, but cost-cutting measures saw this reduced to A$3.7m.

The League has stressed that the final years of the cycle were always projected to contrast with the opening couple of years, stating this pattern will continue heading into the 2018-2022 cycle in which the NRL has secured a five-year broadcast rights agreement worth A$1.8bn.

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said the League expects to break the A$500m revenue barrier in 2018, with a A$40m surplus. “Next year we'll see the game return to a strong surplus position at the first year of a five-year broadcast cycle,” Greenberg (pictured) added, according to the AAP news agency.

“When I see certain headlines and media commentary about the game being broke, that couldn't be further from the truth. We've made great commitments to clubs and great commitments to players, states and the grassroots. The game is being very well managed financially and the distributions are bigger and better than ever.”

However, Greenberg issued a warning to the League’s clubs, stating they cannot be expected to be bailed out should they fall into financial difficulties. The League has recently had to come to the aid of the Newcastle Knights and Gold Coast Titans, but this won’t continue moving forward.

“It won’t happen, and the reason it won’t happen is because it can’t happen,” Greenberg said, according to NRL.com. “Because we don’t have money put aside to prop a club up … If you look at the numbers, what the numbers tell you is that they’ve now got enough money to sustain themselves. So if they run smart, effective and efficient business models, we should have 16 strong clubs.

“But that’s now in the hands of clubs to run their businesses smartly with good people and good governance to turn them into good clubs. They’re now being funded from the centre better than ever before so they have their best shot.”

However, a distressed club fund has been put in place. That fund will see a combined A$3m each year split between all 16 clubs. It will be distributed equally back to the teams at the end of the broadcast rights cycle should it remain unused.

Greenberg added: “That’s their insurance fund, if you like. It’s a distressed club fund, so if one of them falls over, they can apply to that fund to help them. We won’t be helping them because we don’t have money in the centre to club the props up again. It will be a very different conversation next time around if a club gets into financial trouble. And that’s been well communicated.”

The 2018 NRL season commences on March 8.