Channel Nine, the NRLs Australian free to air broadcast partner is reporting via its twitter account that rival club bosses have given the green tick for a second NRL team in New Zealand. A recent survey by the Sydney Morning Herald, conducted with club bosses, is yet another hint that the game is looking to strengthen their presence in the land of the long white cloud.
Rumours of second NZ side have strengthened since a stuff.co.nz article stated that the concept had the support of NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo. At the time, Abdo was quoted as saying “An 18th team allows you to think about what we might want to do about expanding in New Zealand. Having two teams in New Zealand creates a tribalism and a new rivalry in New Zealand.”
Whilst details such as financial backing and even location are still largely unknown, it is believed that any decision would come down to a team based in Christchurch, with a population of just under 400,000 or Wellington, with a population of just over 200,000.
Around the same time Abdo was quoted by Stuff.co.nz about his desire to see a second team in New Zealand, the sports head office made public their strategy to ‘Stabilise, renovate and then grow’, this time to NRL.com via veteran journalist Brad Walter. Still at the height of Covid-19 disruptions, Abdo went onto state “It also gives you options around pools because you can have two pools of nine teams. As you see with some of the big US sports, as you grow your competition and the scale of the number of teams, you can create a dynamic around who plays who and ultimately create more rivalries in regional areas and have competitions within competitions”.
The idea of a second New Zealand NRL team is nothing new, with a serious push from the Wellington Orcas consortium losing out to the Gold Coast Titans, who entered the competition in 2007.
🤔 Between 2025-2027?
🤔 Beyond 2028?
🤔 Too soon to think about?
— NRL on Nine (@NRLonNine) March 8, 2022
On February 28, the NRL announced record revenues of $575m. It’s expected that revenue from broadcasters will rise to over $400m per annum for the first time in 2023, whilst revenue from betting agency partnerships are rumoured to total around $60m per annum. Total revenue is expected to exceed $600m per annum from 2023 onwards. The code is also reported to have finished 2021 with cash reserves of $170m.
Having paid out grants totaling $240m to the 16 clubs in 2021, it’s clear that the days of a bloated head office are long gone.
“In 2019, our costs as a percentage of revenue were 37.5%. In 2021 after making the NRL more efficient the costs as a percentage of revenue dropped to 27.6%”, stated Peter V’landys, head of the ARL independent commission.
In June 2021, the NRL announced a new broadcasting deal with New Zealand network Sky TV. Whilst exact sums are hard to pin down, it is believe this deal netted a substantial increase on the existing deal and will possibly rise to as high as $30m per annum. This will replace the existing deal, which runs out at the end of this year.
Sky chief executive Sophie Moloney said the partnership was more than a broadcast deal.
— NRL (@NRL) March 8, 2022
“Through our partnership we have committed to working even more closely with the NRL and NZRL to grow the game of rugby league in New Zealand” Moloney told stuff.co.nz at the time. This is a partnership that the NRL would no doubt look to lean on if a second New Zealand team eventuates, which is looking likely.
Most details are unknown at this point, however Former NZRL chairman Andrew Chalmers has been spearheading the push for a second team in New Zealand for a number of decades now and could be the first to put forward a bid. Quoted by Brad Walters for nrl.com in May 2021, Chalmers stated his desire for a Wellington team to play out of Sky Stadium and take regular matches to Christchurch, where a new 25,000-seat stadium is being built. Chalmers also stated he’d like to establish regional high-performance academies for junior male and female talent in the lower North Island and South Island, create an elite women’s team with aspirations to play in the NRLW, provide NZ$30 million in capital to ensure the club’s financial viability, and develop a rivalry with the Warriors that would generate huge interest in New Zealand.
It is hoped more details and clarity around an 18th team will come to light throughout the 2022 NRL season. If the goal of a second NRL team in New Zealand is realised, it is sure to be the most ambitious expansion push by Rugby League in Australasia since the super league days.