The National Rugby League (NRL) is drawing criticism for a pricey new betting rights deal with online betting exchange Betfair Australia and for the league’s plans to resume play with fans in the stands.
On Tuesday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Betfair Australia, a division of Australian casino operator Crown Resorts, had come to terms on a deal that will officially allow Betfair to offer wagers on NRL matches.
The paper claimed that Betfair had broken off talks with the NRL in February over the issue of rights fees. This week, Betfair Australia CEO Tim Moore-Barton groused that the NRL deal he’d signed was “four times more expensive” than the operator’s pact with the Australian Football League. The net result is that betting exchange customers will face higher commissions on NRL wagers than other betting markets.
Betfair is far from alone in feeling gouged by the NRL, which reportedly charges bookmakers the highest fees of any Aussie sporting body. As a result, bookmakers tend not to promote their NRL markets with the same enthusiasm they apply to other sports on their roster.
By way of clarification, in 2016, the NRL struck a five-year official wagering partnership with online betting operator Sportsbet, a division of UK gambling giant Flutter Entertainment (which, confusingly, controls the Betfair betting exchange everywhere except Australia).
Thursday will see the NRL resume the season that was suspended in mid-March as the country went under COVID-19 lockdown. Thursday’s matches will take place without fans in the stands but the NRL has stated that it intends to welcome fans back to the terraces by the start of July.
This timeline has been roundly derided by medical professionals, including the Australian Medical Association (AMA), whose president Dr. Tony Bartone said “this absurd and dangerous idea belongs in the sin bin.”
Barton said the NRL should be “satisfied” with being the first major contact sport to return to any semblance of normal activity while the pandemic limps on, but “it is unfair and unwise to put the health of the game’s fans at risk.” Barton urged the NRL to “wait until the medical experts advise” sports leagues on when fans might be invited back, “and that will not be as early as July.”