Rugby League

License article

League's Super fund

The battle to control rugby league led to billions of dollars being spent, respected executives making hay - and James Packer cashing in, writes Roy Masters.

WHEN Channel Nine boss David Gyngell let out a sigh of relief at the ARL Commission's declaration it had awarded the Nine/Fox Sports consortium the broadcasting rights, the emission of emotion from his best mate, James Packer, would have been louder.

Gyngell will be generously rewarded when the revitalised network is floated, but Packer has done better. He will receive a $2 billion payment from News Ltd for the sale of his equity in Fox Sports/Foxtel. The transaction was dependent on Fox Sports winning the rights.

This week's $1.025 billion rights deal delivered some interesting winners and losers from the cast of characters involved in the Super League war.

Packer supported the establishment ARL in the three-year conflict and was gifted his half share of Fox Sports and a quarter of Foxtel by News as settlement of the war.

News, which bankrolled Super League, declared a $650 million spend, but probably outlaid $1 billion.

The Packer family called a halt to the ''Super Greed'' when it reached $100 million, but the majority of funds were supplied by Optus, which was assured the pay TV rights.


At the conclusion of the conflict, the ARL was forced to hand over its $22 million war chest; Packer acquired the free-to-air rights; News Ltd won the pay TV rights, together with a first and last right over all rival broadcasting bids until 2022.

So, with this week's deal, Packer jnr receives $2 billion for an outlay that is probably 5 per cent of News's spending on the code, other than Packer's sponsoring the Melbourne Storm for $1 million through his ownership of Crown Casino.

And News? It has released the code of its hold over broadcasting rights, which was extended to 2027 as a condition of its exit from the NRL.

It was scheduled to surrender its half-ownership of the NRL in 2018 and entitled to receive $8 million a year over the next six years.

Now, it has released the code of all rights, declined $50 million of entitlements and will continue to fund the Storm for probably $4 million a year, although its other team, the Broncos, makes a $2 million profit.

News has shown far more duty of care of the code than Packer, whom many supported in the Super League war because of fears of a media empire owning a sport.

Fox Sports did acquire some online rights, cutting Telstra out of its exclusive deal.

But the telco pays only $10 million a year for the naming rights to the code, together with online rights, compared with $30 million a year to the AFL just for online rights.

Telstra gains from rugby league through its half-ownership of Foxtel, but it would not surprise if the ARLC began a search for another sponsor of the NRL.

Some of the former Super League executives have done well.

Ian Frykberg, who succeeded John Ribot as chief executive, acted for Fox Sports in the ARLC negotiations, and obviously received a handsome commission.

David Gallop, the Super League lawyer who was elevated to NRL chief executive and held the post for a decade, has now moved to Football Federation Australia and a $1 million salary. Gallop is also acting chairman of the Australian Sports Commission, the federal government's funding and policy arm.

He is likely to be a major player in Australian sport for the rest of his working life.

In fact, he might be appointed to the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust by the NSW Sports Minister, Graham Annesley, who followed Gallop to the NRL after their days working for Super League.

But the decent Annesley stands above most of the ARL-Super League warriors by appointing the former ARL chief executive John Quayle as chairman of a committee to rationalise the use of stadiums in Sydney.

Quayle is probably receiving payment equal to his expenditure on highway tolls, but the gesture has not been lost on his many fans.

His former chairman Ken Arthurson is now in comfortable retirement on the Gold Coast, while his Super League opposite, Ken Cowley, appears content running his dairy farm.

Some Super League executives have been cast aside, such as Frykberg's predecessor, Ribot, who was sacked as the Storm's managing director, only to become a director of the QRL before being dumped again.

Ribot was a nominee of the Queensland teams that play in a state cup, a competition that will now be televised on Channel Nine, although one source said this was ''unresolved''.

If, however, the Queensland competition is shown on free-to-air TV, it will get more exposure than the NSW Cup, which must take its turn with the Toyota Cup and the schoolboys competition on pay TV. Maybe this reflects the power of the Queenslanders on the ARLC, a concern for many Sydney NRL clubs.

Meanwhile, the NSWRL, the once powerful faction behind the old Phillip Street ARL, demonstrated this week it has shed the scars of the Super League war.

Laurie Daley was appointed NSW State of Origin coach, beating Brad Fittler for the post.

During the Super League war, Fittler left Penrith to play for an ARL club, while Daley, playing for the News-aligned Raiders, was quoted saying the ARL treated players like dogs.

Next year he will coach the Blues where, given this week's $1.025 billion TV rights announcement, every dog has had his day.