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Titans winger Anthony Don.

"Rugby league will always survive in some way but I can't guarantee it will in the same way".

Those words from ARLC chairman Peter V'landys after announcing the suspension of the Telstra Premiership on Monday night underscore the level of uncertainty now faced by the NRL and its 16 clubs.

NRL clubs had already begun telling staff to take annual leave, long service entitlements or leave without pay, while some were made redundant, before the competition was put on hold for at least six weeks.

Among them were premiership-winning NRL greats Steve Price at Canterbury and Brett Kimmorley at Cronulla.

That process is now set to accelerate as clubs move to skeleton staff numbers while there are no games.

NRL suspends season in wake of COVID-19 outbreak

Up to 85 per cent of NRL employees were told on Monday to take paid leave until May 1, with only essential staff remaining at the game's Moore Park and Eveleigh offices. 

Players are also bracing for substantial wage cuts, as clubs were last week warned the game was already facing losses of up to $110 million if the full season can be played in closed stadiums – and far more if the competition doesn’t resume.

At stake is the future of the game and most clubs, as only Brisbane and South Sydney regularly return a profit without leagues club funding.

The shutdown of leagues clubs on Monday as part of the Federal Government's measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 is set to impact heavily on the likes of Canberra, Canterbury, Parramatta, Penrith and Wests Tigers.

The significant losses the game already faces would be dwarfed by the financial fall-out if the NRL can't fulfil the terms of its $1.8 billion broadcast rights deal with Nine and Fox Sports, which is worth about $13 million for each premiership round.

It's a situation being mirrored in major sporting competitions around the world, including the Bundesliga. 

"Nobody is a fan of matches behind closed doors but for many clubs they may be the only way to keep clubs in business," Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert said after Germany's premier football league was forced to suspend its season.

While much had been made about the NRL’s determination to continue playing, the Bundesliga, English Premier League and the NBA are looking to stage games for the same reasons.

The Bundesliga is desperate to continue their season in order to avoid forfeiting $690 million in broadcast revenue for the remaining nine rounds.

The Bundesliga is even considering moving players to hotels at two or three locations around Germany where they would be quarantined and could then be transported directly to and from stadiums for matches.

It’s a proposal similar to the one put forward by South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett to relocate the entire NRL competition to a single location where the risk of players contracting the coronavirus would be reduced.

A 1392-room purpose-built village at Calliope, near Gladstone, was later identified as a possible base for more than 500 players from 16 NRL teams before Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the closure of the state's borders.

The Big3 pro-basketball league has also proposed quarantining up to 22 NBA stars in an LA mansion, with a playing court built on site to host matches for television.

The NRL had already introduced charter flights for travelling teams and ordered all players to self-isolate in a bid to remain healthy.

The Bundesliga begun playing "ghost" matches in closed stadium before suspending the competition last week and if they don’t resume it is feared that up to 20 of the 36 clubs in the top two divisions could go under, with 56,000 jobs under threat.

The 18 clubs in the top tier earned a combined $7.5 billion last season but broadcast deals provide their main source of income, with match day revenue ranging between eight per cent and 15 per cent depending on the club.

“We are manufacturing a product and if we no longer manufacture it then we cease to exist,” Seifert said. “More is at stake than just a few matches. Tens of thousands of jobs are at stake.”

The AFL’s decision on Sunday to suspend their season for 10 weeks has been followed by clubs telling 80 per cent of their staff to take leave or lose their job.

In Germany, Borrussia Monchengladbach players offered to take pay cuts, while officials at Spanish giants Barcelona have spoken to captains Lionel Messi, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto about reducing the club's massive wages bill.

Many of the NBA’s biggest stars are also facing hits to their salaries, with The Washington Post reporting that the financial cost to each of the league’s 30 franchises could be $70 million, or more than $2 billion in total, if the rest of the regular season and playoffs are lost.

This could result in the largest salary cap decrease in decades as the cap is determined by the player’s split of NBA revenue divided by the 30 teams.

AFL players had been forewarned of a 20 per cent pay cut after the competition was reduced to 17 rounds and the length of matches shortened as broadcasters will not pay as much.

Every try from Round 2

That figure could now be as high as 50 per cent, according to some reports, and NRL players may face similar cuts. 

“This is a moment in time where the game’s cost base will need to be reset,” NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said.

“That cost base is across the entire sport from players to clubs to central administration. Everyone has a role to play."

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.