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NRL to ditch digital arm

NRL scales back digital arm following broadcaster pressure​

By Zoe Samios

October 6, 2021 — 3.53pm

The National Rugby League has bowed to pressure from its media partners and decided to scale down its digital content arm in a move that is expected to result in several redundancies at the organisation.

The shift, led by the NRL’s recently appointed chief customer and digital officer Alexi Baker, is part of an ongoing effort to streamline operations at the NRL to save costs and better serve fans. But it will also be considered a win for the company’s two media partners - Nine Entertainment Co and News Corp Foxtel - which have long expressed frustration about the division and argue the NRL’s own website competes with their digital properties.

Staff at the NRL were informed about the change on Wednesday afternoon and about 10 redundancies are expected to take place over the next few weeks. Staff who appeared at the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they were not given the opportunity to ask questions.

Under the plans the NRL will move away from creating news-focused content and work more closely with Nine (which is the owner of this masthead) and News Corp-controlled Foxtel on joint projects. The NRL website will mainly feature highlights and short-form videos that entertain fans instead of breaking news. The NRL was approached for comment but did not respond by deadline.

The NRL Digital Network officially launched in 2018 after the organisation took control of its digital assets from Telstra, an arrangement formed under the terms of its $1 billion broadcasting rights deal with Nine and Foxtel. The deal was a significant change in strategy for the NRL and involved the clubs investing money in digital rather than outsourcing it to media partners.

The network is currently made up of five parts including NRL.com, and sites and apps for the competition’s 16 teams. As of last year, the digital unit employed about 80 staff, including a product and technology arm with designers, developers and engineers who ensure the digital products work for fans. It has a media services division which handles game archives and images taken at matches, digital marketing and social media, a data and insights team, and employs about eight journalists who cover matches and interview players and coaches.

This is the first major change for NRL digital division since the arrival of Ms Baker (who previously led negotiations at Nine), who has undertaken a review of the organisation’s media arm. In late August, the NRL notified high-profile ex players and coaches such as Jamie Soward, Brett Kimmorley, Anthony Seibold and Robbie Farah that the website would no longer feature panel shows.

The restructure comes as the NRL prepares to propose the Redcliffe Dolphins as the expansion team for 2023 after agreeing to a deal with News Corp to inject at least $75 million into the sport over five years. Sources with knowledge of discussions told the Herald earlier this week that the NRL is providing the News Corp-owned Brisbane Broncos will an increase in exclusive matches, which will ultimately reduce the number of free-to-air games.

The NRL is presenting to the 16 clubs on Thursday and will provide them with details on how they plan to finance a 17th team. Any savings generated by the NRL could help with the justification of a new team.

NRL scales back digital arm following broadcaster pressure (smh.com.au)
 

Iamback

First Grade
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Again its the general juicy news stories, and lots of them, that the journos were writing and pushing through social media which then drove people to the website. Both the number of stories and type of stories has changed significantly since they sacked the media arm. Its mostly now about players stories that have been regurgitated from that players clubs website they then link into nrl.com. That isnt going to drive big numbers to nrl.com, fans want to be reading about Walsh and where he might end up if he leaves Warriors or if the Roos will be playing in the RLWC or if Origin is moving from Perth. These sorts of stories are what is of interest to the masses, not how some all stars dance came to be or how someones great niece is carrying on the family name in making a debut in NRLW that they've already read on the Roosters website.

And who led these changes that are costing the game with no return? yep the newly appointed Snr exec Alexi Baker who we picked up from Nine, who where one of the main complainers about the NRL's media arm! Talk about putting foxes in charge of the hen house!

'Under the plans the NRL will move away from creating news-focused content and work more closely with Nine (which is the owner of this masthead) and News Corp-controlled Foxtel on joint projects. The NRL website will mainly feature highlights and short-form videos that entertain fans instead of breaking news.'

'Nine Entertainment Co has expressed interest in taking over the NRL’s digital arm as part of cost-cutting measures in a revised broadcast deal.
Sources close to the negotiations say Nine’s proposal for an extended deal until the end of 2025 includes the code’s digital arm, led by NRL.com, which the free-to-air network believes currently runs in direct competition with its two broadcast partners.'


Do fans want to read stuff like that though?
Should rumours be on Official websites?

I say no to both. DT is struggling due to printing rumours as news.
NRL.com should be Promotions and official news. Leave the BS to those who need the clicks
 

Perth Red

Immortal
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49,755
Do fans want to read stuff like that though?
Should rumours be on Official websites?

I say no to both. DT is struggling due to printing rumours as news.
NRL.com should be Promotions and official news. Leave the BS to those who need the clicks
Maybe but that's what drives traffic and generates revenue. The other side of it was controlling the narrative. back when it was set up the NRL was sick of all the negative focus on the game by the media partners and wanted to be able to push out a different angle to the news. Perception is everything and if all you read about is dckhead players and negative news then the publics perception of RL becomes very tainted.
 

Perth Red

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As a sports comms professional and a consumer of a lot of content, a story from Zoe Samios in last Thursday’s Sydney Morning Herald certainly made me sit up and pay attention.

It detailed impending redundancies at the National Rugby League (NRL) in their digital content team, as a result of a commitment from the NRL to reduce its investment in this space at the alleged request of its two broadcast partners (Nine Entertainment Co and News Corp Foxtel).

As the owners of mastheads including The Australian, Courier Mail and Daily Telegraph (News Corp) and the Sydney Morning Herald (Nine), all of which use widely-read Rugby League columns penned by the likes of Phil Rothfield, Peter Badel and Danny Weidler to drive online subscriptions and newspaper sales, Samios stated that they have “long expressed frustration about the (NRL Media) division and argue the NRL’s own website competes with their digital properties.”

“Under the plans, the NRL will move away from creating news-focused content and work more closely with Nine and News Corp on joint projects. The NRL website will mainly feature highlights and short-form videos that entertain fans instead of breaking news,” she continues.

It’s a win for the media partners, with less competition for eyeballs, but continues the unfortunate trend of recent years with quality journalists left without jobs. It also leaves fans with a decision to make as to whether they wish to become paying subscribers of those other platforms in order to continue to access premium content, or else consume a lower standard of content on other sites - or disengage entirely. There is excellent content elsewhere if you know where to look, but not at the same rapid news-breaking speed, or with the same level of access to top sources.
Most major sports bodies in Australia have invested and relied heavily upon their own media arms in recent years, often stressing that they run independently of head office and should be considered legitimate media outlets as opposed to a mouthpiece of HQ. So, will this be the beginning of a trend which sees broadcasters in those sports begin to scale back as part of a negotiating tool with media partners?



AFL.com.au was the first to have a real impact in this space, and are the shining light to this day. Their dedicated team produces a tonne of content ranging from podcasts and its live trade radio broadcasts to opinion pieces, expert columns and a catalogue of video material. They also break news as and when it happens, in competition with external media partners.

Whilst it is often attacked by opponents in columns, it’s Chief Football Writer Damian Barrett has steadfastly maintained that its agenda is not influenced by AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan. The property is a genuine jewel in the crown of the AFL now, far longer established than NRL.com, and it is hard to see a scenario where it is scaled back without a hugely significant financial incentive to do so.

In an interview with Nicole Livingstone for the League Leaders podcast, AFL Executive General Manager of Customer and Commercial Kylie Rogers explained how beneficial owned platforms were when matches ground to a halt at the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020.

“Digital got us through,” Rogers said. “Digital is agile and flexible, and when we didn’t have any games to put on and our fans were hungry, they flocked to our digital platforms and we started to pivot. We created great digital programs and told great stories, and actually saw our audience double in that time (despite no matches being played).”

Rugby.com.au launched with a bang back in 2015 and, whilst always toeing the company line and avoiding controversy in tonality, it employed a strong group of journalists before the pandemic hit and the sport’s financial problems worsened. It has also broadcast live elite developmental and semi-professional men’s and women’s Rugby, and remains an important mouthpiece for a game that doesn’t enjoy strong column inches or a national presence.

Recently, Richard Bayliss joined the Australian Professional Leagues (APL), operators of the top tier of domestic men’s, women’s and youth football in Australia, as its first Director of Content. The media release announcing his appointment said that he will “lead APL’s brand new content arm, a key strategic growth focus for APL, with a brief to create the most compelling home of football coverage in Australia - championing the best of the A-League and W-League but also delivering multi-platform stories and news about football from all corners of the globe.” It certainly sounds like football, with a diminishing footprint in mainstream media, is doubling down its efforts to produce content of its own.

Aside from wanting to communicate with paying members, generating eyeballs to club and governing body websites is considered an important part of many commercial deals. There’s no doubt NRL.com’s web traffic will decrease off the back of this decision - what does it mean for the sponsors who were almost certainly spouted figures when in negotiations to come on board in the first place?

It’s an interesting space to watch, and I daresay whilst one of the first times we’re having this conversation it certainly won’t be the last. For mine, there’s room for both to thrive - but perhaps a true need to differentiate content from one another.

The NRL relies heavily on traditional media in order to attract new fans, and as broadcast partners Nine and News should be rightly treated as integral stakeholders, but having invested time and energy into developing their own platform (and investing in quality journalists to execute it), it’s a genuine shame to see its presence diminished.

 

This Year?

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Since before the SL war the game has always been spineless and gutless when it comes to media.
Yes, I get that media pays lots of money for the game, but without the game both parties don't make the money.
The NRL and ARL need to grow a pair and run the game instead of letting the media think they do.
 

Perth Red

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The NRL isn’t a media organisation. They need to focus on their core operations first, not worry about publishing propaganda.
haha, whoever controls the media controls the mind - Jim Morrison

It was set up partly as the main stream media was doing such a terrible job promoting the game and continually focusing on negative news stories. Has so much changed that we no longer feel that way?

Secondly it was setup to drive traffic to NRL.com and its social media outlets to provide advertising revenue. I guess as we no longer see this as necessary we must no longer need the money?

or maybe as this was at the behest of the media companies they must have sweetened the deal with big contract increases? Oh no that didn't happen either did it? lol

We have closed down an influencing, money making arm of the game and got nothing. Sounds a cracking deal by Vlandys! Almost as good as closing down free streaming through Telstra and accepting $100mill less from Fox lol.
 

Iamback

First Grade
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Comes down to cost cutting.
If it was making money it would still be going

The News outlets have the resources to provide content.

NRL need players and referees etc. moving teams isn't cheap
 

Front-Rower

First Grade
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V’landys is old school. If something isn’t in your businesses core competencies, then outsource it.
 

Perth Red

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the first RL story on my social media this morning was Ch9 headline about the scuffle at the all stars game being
“the worse thing seen in 25 years”!

this is why the nrl needs a media arm!!
 

Perth Red

Immortal
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Comes down to cost cutting.
If it was making money it would still be going

The News outlets have the resources to provide content.

NRL need players and referees etc. moving teams isn't cheap
Digital revenue has gone from less than $3million in 2013 to $24million in 2019.
 

This Year?

Referee
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21,755
the first RL story on my social media this morning was Ch9 headline about the scuffle at the all stars game being
“the worse thing seen in 25 years”!

this is why the nrl needs a media arm!!
oh you mean this?

Quoting a fan posting on social media about crowd behaviour at full time without actually quoting it. Maybe he wanted to remain anonymous?
 
Last edited:

Perth Red

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oh you mean this?


Quoting a fan posting on social media about crowd behaviour at full time without actually quoting it. Maybe he wanted to remain anonymous?
yep, and proves my point, find any quote from anyone to put a story out shtting on the game. Partners and all that.
 

Iamback

First Grade
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5,408
unknown as Vlandys has stopped reporting useful figures in the annual report. Transparency lol.

We do know FTA networks though. No reason to think a smaller website wouldn't have the same. Throw in the costs associated and it becomes less profitable
 

Perth Red

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We do know FTA networks though. No reason to think a smaller website wouldn't have the same. Throw in the costs associated and it becomes less profitable
well web traffic and media advertising has gone up during covid times, so why would revenue have gone down? $3mill to $24mill in digital revenue in a few short years. Yeh sounds a great part of the business to just give up on because News ltd asked nicely!

Grant knew digital presence is the future for the game, Vlandys is a dinosaur who doesn't understand it so gives it up for his mates benefit.

 

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