Nine has secured Free to Air NRL broadcast rights for the 2018 to 2022 seasons at a cost of $185m per year, including contra.
Nine has confirmed exclusive Free-to-Air rights to broadcast 4 premium live games a week on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, as well as the Finals series, State of Origin and other special event matches.
The deal includes all free streaming rights for these games and more than doubles live coverage to over 270 hours per season.
The $185m fee will be reduced if the NRL announces pay simulcast rights for certain games.
David Gyngell, CEO of NEC, said: “Rugby League is part of Nine’s DNA. This is a transformational outcome for supporters, Rugby League and Nine, enabling viewers to see the best of the NRL, live and free, 4 days per week, anywhere, on any device.
“As the audience for television fragments, the value and marketing power of free, live premium sport across multiple media cannot be underestimated.”
Other changes see NRL played over 25 instead of 26 rounds, the second match of State of Origin played on Sundays, and international rugby to be played after NRL season.
NRL CEO Dave Smith said the NRL would regain control of the season schedule.
“We will be able to schedule the best games when fans want to see them – and ensure all clubs receive the coverage they deserve on free to air television,” he said.
Negotiations with other platforms is continuing.
“By 2018, the digital world will be very different and we want to be in the best possible position to take advantage of any changes,” he said.
“So negotiations with the pay tv and digital providers will continue and, again, our focus will be on ensuring the most widespread coverage on whatever platform fans choose to watch rugby league.”
This post updates.