The National Rugby League (NRL) has announced an operating surplus of AUD$58.2m after generating more than AUD$700m revenue for a record breaking 2023 season.

After teetering on the edge of insolvency during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, when the Telstra Premiership was shut down, Peter V’landys, Chair of the Australian Rugby League Commission has assured that, “the game has never been in a stronger position than now”. 

Key highlights of the record-breaking year include the league’s revenue surging by 18%, from AUD$107.3m to AUD$701m, fuelled by a combination of new media rights agreements and unprecedented levels of sponsorship, wagering, and game day earnings.

V’landys, commented: “Our revenues have gone up significantly in the last three to four years, and it’s in every area of the operation. It’s not just one area like broadcasting, it’s through the whole revenue stream.”

To show how much the NRL has grown, in 2014, they earned only AUD$350.9m in revenue, which is less than the AUD$363.7m distributed to clubs and players in 2023.

V’landys added: “The best part of our result has been that we’ve actually distributed record amounts to clubs. When I first came onto the commission, we were looking at two clubs actually going broke, so I’m happy to say now that every club is in the best financial position that they’ve been in.

“That’s because we have given them distributions of AUD$98.2m (above salary cap payments). That’s a 33% increase on the previous year of AUD$74m. We’ve also given the players record distributions of AUD$216.3m, up AUD$30m on the previous year, or 16%.”

In addition to record revenues, the league has also experienced huge growth in participation and audiences. 

Rugby League’s broadcast numbers surpassed those of AFL, with 93.2 million viewers tuning into Telstra Premiership matches on Nine and Fox Sports, compared to AFL’s 91 million across free-to-air and pay-TV channels.

Overall, the sport attracted 171.8 million viewers, solidifying its position as Australia’s most-watched sport.

Additionally, the NRL saw an average attendance of 20,300 for both regular season and finals matches, as they reached 3.1 million NRL accounts, with 450,000 new fans signing up. 

Moreover, the NRL further solidified its position as the largest Australian sport through social media. On TikTok, the league boasts 1.22 million followers, and 1.63 million followers on Instagram.

In terms of participation, grassroots involvement increased by 9%, exceeding 192,000 registered players, with male participation increasing by 5%, while female involvement saw a remarkable growth of 12%.

Andrew Abdo, CEO of NRL, said: “I am proud of the record distributions we have made to our clubs, players and grassroots and participation pathways, which are up 22 per cent on last year.

“The game’s record high revenues are proof that our business strategy is working. Importantly, there has been strong growth in all revenue streams, not just broadcast revenues.

“We are fortunate to have extremely loyal partners and passionate, engaged fans, as evidenced by the record attendance and viewership. The strong surplus allows for reinvestment back into the game, which means the Commission can plan for an exciting period of growth.

The NRL, who began talks with sports betting firms to phase out jersey sponsorships last year to minimise potential gambling-related harm due to overexposure of betting brands. 

Abdo added: “We are looking forward to an even bigger 2024, taking the game to the United States, continuing the game’s expansion of the footprint in the Pacific, expanding the women’s game further with three State of Origin matches, and growing the number of registered grassroot participants.”

V’landys concluded: “Over the next five years, AUD$420m will be spent on participation and pathways.

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