NRL fans the winners in new television deal
The NRL and Channel 9 have announced that four Telstra Premiership games will be shown live on free-to-air television from 2018, with NRL CEO Dave Smith saying it is a huge step forward for rugby league fans.
"I'm very, very pleased to announce a great deal for rugby league," Smith said.
"It is the biggest deal in Australian free-to-air history - nearly as much secured in the entire current rights deal.
"This part of the deal is really about getting four games live for fans on free-to-air, all live and all in prime time. It's a very significant shift forward for our fans. The game gets more control and the fans get more of the product."
Under the new arrangement Channel 9 will screen matches on Thursday, Friday and Saturday during prime time and on Sunday at 4pm in a deal worth up to $925 million.
"It's four games in prime time for free. It allows us to appeal to more people, especially those in regional areas who can't get to games. It's all about the fans," Smith said.
"You're going to bring more people in. More women and girls are watching, more fans are watching the big events and we need to feed that into the premiership."
As part of the agreement the NRL also regains control of the season schedule to deliver a better deal for supporters.
"We are in complete control of the draw and the schedule both from a fairness perspective and what's best for the fans," Smith said.
"We would lay out the season with the ability to change it towards the end of the season (as is the case with the current draw).
"We're much more in control of the workload of the players. We're trying to get the balance right so we understand the impact and impost on players."
In terms of expanding the competition beyond 16 teams after the current rights deal expires at the end of 2017, Smith said talks were still ongoing.
"This deal assumes 16 teams. There have been discussions about whether we introduce a 17th team and there is scope to do that in this contract," he said.
"This deal is about a 16 team competition, but there have been conversations and we have built flexibility in."