ARLC chairman Peter V’landys on Thursday met with Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany, who outlined his network’s position.
Foxtel’s view is now in line with Nine’s in that it believes the value of the season is worth less because broadcasters will not be able to write revenue against the games due to the weak advertising market and that the product will be diminished by the lack of crowds.
Both broadcasters are also concerned the game’s efforts to return could be undermined by the actions of its players, as highlighted by the social-distancing violations of Latrell Mitchell, Josh Addo-Carr and Nathan Cleary in the past week.
The news comes on the same day as the game’s players signalled their intention to revolt against the code’s May 4 commencement date until they know how much they are going to be paid.
The NRL later guaranteed they would, at worst, receive 80 per cent of their salary in 2020 and the governing body believes they will be in breach of their contractual obligations if they now decide not to return on Monday.
V’landys is on Friday morning expected to meet the players’ union, the RLPA, and remind them its members will be paid for the month of May.
The NRL’s 80 per cent pay proposal has not yet been accepted, with the players demanding clarity on a number of issues.
At the heart of the RLPA’s frustration is a broken promise from the then Todd Greenberg-led administration that the players would receive answers to all their questions by Wednesday of this week.
Regardless of whether players return next week or the week after, the RLPA does not believe it will jeopardises a May 28 competition resumption.
“We would still believe there’s ample time to get ready for May 28,” RLPA chief executive Clint Newton said. “Players are still working, just under different conditions at the moment. We couldn’t work through a definitive offer because we have no idea what’s coming in.
“I think we can’t lose the sight of some of the uncertainty around [the Warriors]. They’ve been so professional throughout this process and they’re committed to coming over for an unknown period of time.”
Tensions escalated on Thursday after the Herald revealed the players’ potential boycott discussions, angering NRL powerbrokers, who acted swiftly to try and finalise arrangements with the players.
Players were then told to work off a worst-case 52 per cent pay cut over the final five months of their deal, which works out to be a 20 per cent cut to their annual salaries.
Players are guaranteed next month’s pay in full, but they could be asked to absorb an anticipated 20 per cent drop in broadcast revenue for the months of June to October.
The RLPA said it was still waiting for confirmation on:
- Transparency of the NRL revenues based on the revised 2020 NRL competition structure and the distribution of player payments;
- Detail on government approval for interstate and internationally based teams in relation to their travel, training and playing environment;
- Confirmation of biosecurity and medical protocols;
- Insurances and health protections for those subject to the protocols;
- A wellbeing and welfare plan to support players and their families;
- Medical and injury management support for players.
The NRL is expecting federal and NSW government exemptions at the national cabinet meeting on Friday that would allow the New Zealand Warriors to enter the country and be based in Tamworth ahead of a competition restart on May 28. An exemption in the NSW public health order act doesn’t require medical approval for the NRL to start in NSW.
Some of the game’s most senior figures, including Melbourne captain Cameron Smith, backed the Warriors’ stance against leaving without financial clarity in an emotion-charged phone hook-up on Wednesday night. Some players supported plans to boycott mandatory biosecurity and protocols briefing at each club.
Warriors players Blake Green, Adam Blair and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck spoke on behalf of their teammates when they reiterated that they wouldn’t leave New Zealand, even with an exemption to enter Australia, until the pay structure was agreed.
The Warriors have spent the past month in lockdown under New Zealand government restrictions, and aren’t willing to take a chance on having to spend 14 days in isolation if the NRL is unable to strike a deal. That would leave them in limbo, away from their families, facing another 14 days of strict isolation back in New Zealand if the competition is delayed.
While the NRL is confident it will get the necessary approvals to start the 20-round season on May 28, the Warriors will not leave it to chance. As reported by the Herald on Thursday morning, Channel Nine has indicated to the NRL it wants to pay $90 million of the $118 million it is contracted to pay in 2020.
The game is bracing for a combined $60 million shortfall between Nine and Fox Sports, and the players were demanding to know how much of an impact that would have on their salaries before they considered leaving their families for five months. Nine is the owner of this masthead.
Michael Chammas is a sports reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald