The ongoing broadcast negotiations are particularly noteworthy and seem to be problematic for the NRL and Channel 9.
Let’s all hope as footy fans that we don’t see another spike in COVID-19 cases in the Australian community. We are all no doubt missing our footy and looking forward to things getting back to normal.
AFL and NRL: why the differences in return to play?
The main sporting codes of Sydney and Melbourne are set to resume play at different times. How have money, geography and culture contributed to the divergence in Australia's two leading winter sports during this pandemic?
By Jake Niall, Sam McClure and Michael Chammas
April 29, 2020
The NRL is adamant it will return to games as soon as possible amid the global coronavirus pandemic, but the AFL is remaining cautious.
Unlike the NRL, which has just announced that it will return to play a 20-game season from May 28, the AFL will not settle on a return date until the week of May 11.
The expectation within AFL circles is that the re-start will be no sooner than the end of June, the AFL having taken a more conservative approach to resumption compared with its rival code. Richmond's dual premiership coach Damien Hardwick is among those anxious for an imminent resumption, this week praising the "aspirational leadership" of the NRL, while also saying he understands the AFL's patience.
So, why the vastly different approaches?
Peter V'landys is taking a different approach with the NRL than Gillon McLachlan is with the AFL.CREDIT:DIGITAL IMAGE
What does money have to do with it?
Well … the most important factor is financial. While the NRL has no meaningful asset base, the AFL has been able to buy time by borrowing against Marvel Stadium (which the league owns), allowing it to underwrite the 18 clubs with a $600 million line of credit.
The NRL's desire to play earlier is largely motivated by its need for broadcast dollars from Nine, the owner of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, and Foxtel – a motive that the AFL shares, but without the same urgency.
For the NRL, the earlier timeline was seen as an utter necessity, and has been pushed relentlessly by their extraordinarily well-connected chairman Peter V'landys, whose position as head of NSW Racing has given him a platform to lobby that state's government and Canberra.
Crucial asset: The AFL-owned Marvel Stadium.CREDIT:DARRIAN TRAINOR
What does geography have to do with it?
The AFL clubs are spread across five states, including Western Australia and South Australia, while the NRL is heavily concentrated in NSW/ACT (11 clubs) and Queensland (three clubs).
The continental spread of the AFL means that it has to deal with different public health rules in those states, and with travel restrictions. This complicates the league's plans to set up quarantine hubs, where the entire team (as many as 32 players) would be locked down in two or three different locations where games would be played. The AFL's hub scenario requires a high level of planning and government consent – including repeated testing of the players.
The NRL is looking to return with a more conventional arrangement, relying on charter flights rather than hubs. It is aided by the concentration of 14 clubs in NSW/ACT and Queensland.
Both codes have been assisted by the country's to-date successful flattening of the COVID-19 curve. Their positions will be clarified on Friday, May 1 when their health protocols are reviewed by the governments' chief health officers.
How are the two codes navigating broadcasters?
The dealings of the AFL and the NRL do not vary as much with Foxtel as with their free-to-air partners, where there is a sharp contrast between the codes.
Whereas Channel Seven and the AFL have quietly negotiated a reduced broadcast fee for this year – likely to be commensurate with the loss of five home-and-away games – the NRL and Channel Nine have had a very public and fierce disagreement.
When the NRL pushed for an early re-start, Nine lambasted the league and its executives for "profoundly wasting money".
Nine expressed reluctance about bringing back the NRL on screens at all, announcing to the ASX that they would save $130 million if they did not pay their broadcast fee, but they have since reached agreement to go ahead with the broadcast, following a meeting between broadcasters and the NRL, with the dollar amount not yet clear. Nine had wanted a significant reduction in the $108-million payment (Foxtel pays $190 million) for the network's five standalone games.
Meanwhile, Seven will confirm the dollar figure of its 2020 payment to the AFL later, when it is clear how many games will be played. Seven, too, has been in discussions with the league about an extension of the broadcast deal.
The way both codes have dealt with free-to-air broadcasters has differed, but their dealings with Foxtel have been similar.CREDIT:PHIL CARRICK
Who's calling the shots?
This is one of the clearest and most striking contrasts between the codes.
While the AFL has engaged the entire industry – at least those who are still working – its decision-making has been driven by chief executive Gillon McLachlan and his executive team who, like the clubs, are operating with a skeleton staff.
The NRL, conversely, is being written and directed by V'landys, the forceful and enterprising chairman, rather than McLachlan's counterpart, chief executive Todd Greenberg, who recently quit his role. V'landys has influential club bosses in his corner, particularly Roosters chairman Nick Polites and South Sydney chairman Nick Pappas.
This reflects the NRL's culture and less corporate governance model in which chairmen, rather than the executives, call the shots.
Peter V'landys has influential NRL club bosses in his corner.CREDIT:AAP
Where will this end up?
The AFL has to condense a further 16 rounds into 14 weeks – including a planned one-week break from quarantine – and McLachlan has told the clubs there is a possibility that if the COVID-19 situation continues to improve, they may move out of hubs and approach normality later in the season.
The NRL, true to form, is even pushing to have socially distant crowds for the finals in October.
The AFL's caution has also derived from a recognition that it cannot afford to resume games and then abruptly halt them again, jeopardising its season and parlous finances. Both codes have already lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to their shutdowns; in the AFL's case, this has made clubs into virtual receiverships administered by the AFL and opened up cracks between haves and have-nots.
The AFL is treading lightly on the question of when and if crowds will return, but has conditioned the clubs to the notion that it's unlikely to be this year.
It's arguable that the positions of the two codes have been governed not simply by their different needs and financial and geographic profiles but by cultural contrasts between Melbourne- and Sydney-centred sports: in this case, fast-paced Sydney is in a hurry to get moving, while Melbourne is hastening slowly.
https://www.smh.com.au/sport/afl-and-nr ... 54o8k.html