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NRL reports A$30m surplus in 2019

James Tedesco of the Sydney Roosters is tackled during the 2019 NRL Grand Final against the Canberra Raiders at ANZ Stadium (by Matt King/Getty Images)

Australia’s National Rugby League has reported a surplus of A$30.1m ($19.7m/€17.8m), on revenue of A$528m, in its 2019 annual report.

The surplus figure was down 25 per cent on the A$40.2m reported last year, although was A$4.7m ahead of expectations. The league said one of the reasons for the drop was increased investment in grassroots activity.

Revenue was up six per cent on the A$497m reported last year. The league said this was helped by a successful ‘Magic Round’ in Brisbane, a sold-out State of Origin match in Perth, and robust commercial growth overall. The Magic Round is a weekend where all the league’s fixtures are played at the same venue. Last year’s inaugural Magic Round contributed A$16.6m to the league’s revenue.

The results were announced at annual general meeting of the Australian Rugby League Commission, the body that oversees the league and the sport in the country, last Friday. Peter V’landys was re-elected as Chair by the Commission at the meeting.

V’landys said: “This is an outstanding result for everyone involved in our game. When the Commission was formed in 2012 our revenue was just A$180m, that figure is now A$528m. It is a remarkable growth story,.

“We have now consolidated a strong surplus, that hasn’t always been the case for the NRL, and it provides us with the opportunity to invest more in grassroots rugby league and look at long term investments to ensure an even stronger future.

“The growth in our participation numbers, particularly a double-digit increase in the women’s game, highlights the importance of our increased investment in participation programs.”

The number of female rugby league participants in Australia increased by 18 per cent last year, and more than 11,000 children played the sport for their first time under a new initiative called ‘League Stars’.

Extra team under consideration

In an interview with Australian news outlet 9News last week, V’landys said the NRL was considering adding a 17th team to the league, from the Queensland area, in 2023, the first year of the next media rights cycle.

“We’re very strong in the Queensland market, we dominate the Queensland market, so it does make sense to have more presence in in the Queensland market, but in saying all that no final decision has been made, that will happen in the next few months,” he said.

He added: “We’re doing an analysis…We need to maximise our revenue, and the majority of our revenue is broadcast. So we need to look at the footprint and make sure that whatever we do is going to maximise the return for the broadcasters, which in turn maximises the return for rugby league.”

A decision would be made “in the next few months” he said.

In its current, 2018-22 cycle, the league has domestic media rights deals with free-to-air commercial broadcaster Nine, pay-television broadcaster Fox and telco Telstra. V’landys said the league would continue to seek media rights deals with ‘traditional’, linear television broadcasters in the next cycle.

“I still believe and firmly believe that traditional media’s got a place in Australia,” he said. “I don’t think the migration’s going to be as fast in Australia as it has been in other jurisdictions. Traditional media maximises our revenue so basically we need to look at traditional media and what we can do with traditional media and at the same time not forget these new streaming services and these OTTs where younger people are migrating to…I don’t think traditional broadcasters have anything to worry about with us.”

The league would nevertheless also do ‘due diligence’ and explore its options with OTT players such as Amazon, he said.

V’landys also told 9News that the league could achieve bigger surpluses in the years to come, but needed to purchase “income generating assets” to secure its financial position.

He also credited the league’s introduction last year of its ‘no-fault stand down’ rule with contributing to the recent strong financial results. The rule was introduced following a string of player discipline scandals and means that players charged with serious criminal offences are barred from playing until their cases are resolved. He said: “We had a commercial problem and we needed to accommodate that. I don’t think we would have returned $30 million if we didn’t have the stand down rule.”

Stadium frustration

V’landys told 9News that the league wanted to discuss with the government Australia’s approach to stadium-building. The league is frustrated with the slow progress of the Sydney Football Stadium project, which is due to be the host of the NRL Grand Final from 2022 through to 2046.

V’landys said: “One thing that really annoys me as a sports administrator is you go to Melbourne and they move fast, they do things quickly, they have the best grounds, they have the best facilities, yet in Sydney, which is the greatest city in the world, we have to argue amongst ourselves so we can get some expenditure on stadiums that cause the entertainment of the majority of the population.”

He added that league was keen to see smaller, suburban stadiums renovated too.