The NRL’s reworked rights deal means fans will be denied the chance to watch Sonny Bill Williams’ return on free-to-air TV.
Williams is set to play his first NRL game since 2013 for the Sydney Roosters on Saturday night, in what is the most-anticipated return to the sport in years.
His comeback coincides with a grand final rematch, with Canberra and the Roosters both vying for a crucial top-four spot.
Under the previous deal, the Nine Network had the rights to simulcast the 7:30pm Saturday night timeslot in the last five rounds before the finals..
However with the shorter 2020 season, that agreement was removed for this year as part of a process that also saw broadcasters have a bigger say on scheduling.
“The last five Saturday night matches of the season have been relinquished by Nine for 2020,” a Nine Network spokesman told AAP.
“This formed part of the negotiation of the revised 20 round season for this year only.
“Nine will continue to simulcast the last five Saturday night matches for the remaining years of the current deal in 2021 and 2022.”
Williams’ return could have been a ratings bonanza, with intense hype and interest around the dual international since speculation of his comeback began in July.
Around 833,000 people tuned in for the initial grand final rematch across both Nine and Fox League in June.
Canberra’s first release of 1500 tickets were snapped up by members in 20 minutes on Monday afternoon.
The Raiders are still lobbying government the government for an increased crowd figure of 6000 or even 12,000 given the interest in the match.
Williams’ Roosters are scheduled to play at 7:30pm on Saturday nights in round 18 and 19 as well, which will now also remain exclusive to Fox.
Meanwhile the loss of free-to-air status for the timeslot comes as another blow to the Raiders.
The Canberra club received just three games on free-to-air this year – the equal-third least in the NRL – and they have not been on Nine since round 10.
That comes despite reaching last year’s grand final, and originally being handed eight free-to-air games in the initial 25-round draw released last year.
The club is on the hunt for a new major sponsor, with Huawei reducing their commitment due to the “continued negative business environment”.