The Putsch

Channel 9 is no friend of rugby league.

Firstly, recently they told the NRL they wanted to ‘rip up’ the contract for broadcasting the game, based on the fact that they weren’t getting games this year. Today they’ve argued they haven’t been consulted enough in recent deliberations to get the game on, and claimed rugby league has been run poorly, threatening to not fulfil their obligations as broadcaster.

This is now forming a clear part of an attempt to get Todd Greenberg to resign.

It’s so glaringly notable because of the comically hyperbolic language being used by the proponents. Channel 9 suggests a ‘bloated’ NRL administration has ‘wasted millions of dollars’. It suggests it won’t show the games (because it has so much else on right now) and it has put the blame at Todd Greenberg’s feet. There’s been the hilarious suggestions that Phil “I lost the Panthers $40m” Gould or Wayne “I’ve never run anything but the Knights into the ground” Bennett take over.

It’s pretty clear that despite many flaws, Greenberg has been an effective administrator of the NRL. Rugby league has increased its revenue from around $120m a year to over $500m in 2019 over Greenberg’s tenure. He was part of the team that landed the historic broadcast rights deal that is currently the source of so much consternation. He made the right calls in supporting the marriage equality push, and has brought the game into the 21st century on a range of social issues. Greenberg has been quietly building rugby league into the clear second-biggest winter sport in the country, and with more time and more expansion they could be the clear “NBA” to the AFL’s “NFL”.

Sidebar: I never thought I’d be using the pages to defend Toddy G, lord knows I have the same criticisms you do, but channel 9 is being comical.

Channel 9 have aimed their ire at Greenberg down for several reasons. Firstly, it seems clear from the focus of their ire that Greenberg stands between them and renegotiating the broadcasting deal. Channel 9 in particular seem keen to keep the $130m they think they’ll save from not broadcasting this season. V’Landys has indicated his willingness to renegotiate the deal, for reasons that aren’t really clear to me.

In the short term, they want to save money, and it doesn’t matter to them if they have to trash the NRL in order to get it. What tremendous partners in the game.

In the longer term they may preparing justifications to be out on rugby league, which good luck to them, because all that matters on commercial TV is live sport, and they will soon have none. Rugby league remains the highest rating program on television in Australia – and if you’re not making money from that the issue of management shouldn’t be laid at the league’s feet. Nine announced half-year profits of $114m, because it had high tv ratings. Rugby league was a huge part of that. I would admit that their most recent outburst would normally sink a relationship with an organisation, but it’s too focused on Greenberg for me to take it as swipe at the game. More likely is that they are simply seeking to make rugby league even more profitable, and are using the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to make this push.

This has also been supported by criticisms from the clubs. It’s comical for anyone to argue that NRL HQ is the source of rugby league’s issue when the clubs are given 130% of the salary cap and most are still losing money. But putting the blame firmly on the head of Greenberg allows clubs to escape scrutiny from the people that keep them alive – you – for their inept administrative approaches.

It seems to me that Peter V’Landys supports this manoeuvring to have Greenberg removed. He’s barely rebuked any external criticisms of his partner, and responded to Channel 9’s almost crazy criticism of Greenberg by suggesting in this discussion that V’Landys thinks they “will do a deal”, which suggests to me that discussion has already happened between him and the broadcaster. He’s been clear that his view of expansion is giving the broadcasters what they immediately want (another team in the high rating market of Brisbane) instead of what they need (teams in other timezones like Perth or New Zealand).

It sounds conspiratorial to suggest V’Landys is supportive of this putsch, but his tendency to set up processes that will create issues he can publicly “squash” is behaviour indicative of someone wanting to be positioned as the saviour of problems he creates. Earlier leaks that Greenberg was resigning didn’t come from Todd, and V’Landys is set to benefit most from having more influence at NRL HQ.

Ultimately this will end with Greenberg’s demise. It’s a shame, but when all the sources of power in the game are aiming at you there seems little other option. What will be interesting is when Todd is gone, what happens to the guns currently pointed at him?

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