Nine’s secret agenda to kill off Sydney NRL club

 

Rugby league broadcaster Channel 9 wants to kill off an existing NRL club to make way for a new Brisbane team in a move that could leave one of Sydney's nine traditional clubs facing extinction.

The network wants - and is likely to get - the competition changes by 2023 when the next multibillion-dollar TV broadcast deal is in place.

Channel 9's director of sport Tom Malone has told The Sunday Telegraph the network was against increasing the number of teams from 16 and wants at least one club to go to accommodate a new team.

"That could come from another team being relocated there, or better still another club being discontinued and a new club established in Brisbane," Mr Malone said. "In a perfect world you'd probably have one or two less teams.

"What clubs should go? I'm not going to get into that one. It's a hard decision but probably one that needs to be made in the longer-term interests of the game."

The NRL has set up an internal working group to make a detailed analysis of potential new markets. An interim report will go to the independent commission in October.

Cronulla Sharks, Manly Sea Eagles and Gold Coast Titans would be most in danger if Channel 9 gets its way.

A decision could be made as early as December on the future make-up of the competition before negotiations begin with the broadcasters.

Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany also wants a second Brisbane team as part of the next broadcast deal but does not support moves to kick out a club.

Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany. Picture: Britta Campion
Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany. Picture: Britta Campion

"They love their rugby league in Brisbane and it seems a natural fit," Mr Delany said. "You get that inter-city rivalry which enhances tribalism and that's ultimately what we want.

"It's all about generating more fans and bigger TV audiences. I don't know if you'd get that real tribal traction with rugby league in Perth that you'd get in Brisbane."

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg met Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Friday to discuss the viability and gauge support for a second Brisbane team.

TV bosses believe two Brisbane sides will create a rivalry to match the A-League Sydney FC versus Wanderers derbies or the AFL's Perth-Adelaide inter-city showdowns that attract massive crowds and ratings.

TV executives believe two Brisbane clubs will boost the game and create a rivalry similar to the A-League Sydney derby. Picture: Dave Hunt
TV executives believe two Brisbane clubs will boost the game and create a rivalry similar to the A-League Sydney derby. Picture: Dave Hunt

There are fears that there are not enough quality players for an extra competitive team. Channel 9 insists a team should go instead of having 17 teams and a bye each week.

"It's for other people to decide but it's not just about having enough quality players," Mr Malone said. "It's about coaches, support staff, administrators. And more clubs and more games just adds more cost - but is unlikely to generate any incremental revenue."

The broadcasters carry enormous influence in the game. Without their $2 billion investment, there is no game.

However, the NRL is likely to stand by existing clubs, not wanting a repeat of the angry protests when South Sydney Rabbitohs were dumped 20 years ago.