Sports Law Ledger - Monday 6 April 2020

Welcome to another socially distant week in sports.

Here's a rundown of the latest news, updates, and alerts in our wonderful wide world of sports law, with a focus on more positive news (where possible):


Governance - Rugby Union: Former Wallabies captains make a move against Rugby Australia leadership, warning of financial crisis

Rugby Australia is headed for insolvency, with serious questions raised over the management of the game by the board and its chief executive, Raelene Castle, according to one of the sport's most revered elders. Former World Cup-winning captain, Nick Farr-Jones, has told ABC's 'The Ticket' that with "ongoing concerns", the board must be wary of being "in breach of the Corporations Act".

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Governance - Sports step up bid for survival package

Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley says a combined codes bid for a survival package from the federal government "is not about paying high-profile players more money" but trying to keep the lights on so they can continue to invest in community sport beyond the COVID-19 shutdown. As chairman of the Coalition for Major Professional and Participation Sports (COMPPS), Tiley has met with Sports Minister Richard Colbeck on behalf of the seven biggest sporting organisations in the country – the AFL, NRL, Rugby Australia, Cricket Australia, Football Federation Australia, Tennis Australia and Netball Australia.

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Governance, Player Relations - Rugby Union: Player pay talks to continue after "positive and robust" Sunday meeting

Rugby Australia and RUPA will continue pay deal talks into this week after meeting on Sunday. Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle and chairman Paul McLean said in a joint statement that "good progress" was made in the meeting but discussions would continue.

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Read RA Statement

Governance, Player Relations - Football/Soccer: FIFA laws allowing free agency won't apply to unpaid A-League players

Under normal circumstances, players who aren't paid for more than two months at any club in the world are free to walk away from their contracts after giving their employer 15 days notice. However, the FIFA regulation won't apply to the six A-League clubs that stood down their players indefinitely while the season remains suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Governance, Player Relations - Football/Soccer: PFA reaffirms position on clubs standing down players

Professional Footballers Australia (the PFA) notes a second A-League club, Central Coast Mariners, has issued stand-down notices to its players. The PFA has reaffirmed its position on clubs dumping players at this time, serving the Mariners owner Mike Charlesworth with a letter of demand seeking the players’ immediate reinstatement.

Read PFA Statement

Governance, Player Relations - Rugby League: NRL reaches agreement with RLPA

The National Rugby League (NRL) and the Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA) have reached agreement on financial measures which will be taken while the NRL Telstra Premiership is suspended due to the COVID-19 virus. The deal will see players earn two months wages and payments. Due to the suspension of the 2020 season, players will surrender five out of 12 months’ salary if the competition is unable to resume.

Read NRL Statement

Governance, Player Relations - Cricket: New percentage pay deal on cards for cricketers as cash crisis looms

Cricket Australia may offer players new percentage-based deals rather than fixed salaries in coming weeks as the governing body considers a proposal to re-configure its contracting system in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

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Governance, Commercial - AFL: Only four clubs could survive football-free season without AFL help

The AFL will assume unprecedented control over its clubs as part of the revolutionary new rescue package put forward on Thursday night to the 18 club bosses. In a receivership model that will essentially turn league chief Gillon McLachlan and the AFL Commission into the competition's banker, clubs unable to meet cash-flow demands will now borrow funds previously deemed extra dividends from head office.

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Governance, Commercial - NBL: Illawarra Hawks licence revoked

The NBL has taken back the licence for the Illawarra Hawks after the club was placed into voluntary administration. NBL Owner and Executive Chairman Larry Kestelman said: “We thank Simon and Wendy Stratford for everything they have done during their time at the club to advance the interests of the Hawks and the Illawarra region and we wish them all the very best during these unprecedented and challenging times.

Read NBL Statement

Read NBL Statement on LaMelo Ball ownership interest

Governance, Commercial - AFL: How $600m loan deal saved AFL

When a much-loved sport like the AFL shrinks to almost nothing in a matter of days, the idea of the code signing a loan facility worth up to $600m with two major banks seems fanciful. On Monday, however, NAB and ANZ agreed on the terms, prompting new NAB chief Ross McEwan to pen a celebratory message to all staff, with the AFL’s press release attached.

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Governance, Commercial - US buyers ready to pounce on Australian teams, says investment banker

The head of a major American investment bank has cashed-up clients ready to buy Australian franchises – and even entire sporting leagues – that may not otherwise survive the coronavirus shutdown. Andrew Kline is the founder and managing director of Park Lane, a firm that specialises in helping high net-worth individuals become owners of sporting franchises. The former St Louis Rams NFL draftee has facilitated deals for his clients to buy and sell teams across all the major American sporting leagues.

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Player Contracts - NRL: trade circus ahead of 2021 season to have roster implications

Tyson Frizell will be unable to leave St George-Illawarra until January next year – under an NRL proposal that will descend the entire player market into contract chaos. In a major decision that would trigger serious roster ramifications for every club and 180 off-contract players, the NRL has proposed in readiness for a protracted 2020 season, that all player contracts be extended until December 31 this year.

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Integrity - Rugby League: Bulldogs players found to be in breach of NRL Code of Conduct

The National Rugby League (NRL) has cancelled the registrations of Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs players Jayden Okunbor and Corey Harawira-Naera.  The NRL’s show-cause process found the behaviour of each player in the lead-up to a trial match in Port Macquarie on February 29 constituted very serious breaches of the league’s Code of Conduct. 

Read NRL Statement

Commercial, Sponsorships - Rugby Union: Qantas confirm jersey sponsorship deal will be honoured

In further good news, major partner Qantas, the Wallabies' front of jersey sponsor, confirmed it would honour its two-year deal with RA. A Qantas spokesman confirmed their partnership, which came under significant pressure amid the Folau saga over the past two years, was renewed at the end of last year and would run until the end of 2021.

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Commercial, Broadcasting - Motorsport, Esports - McLaughlin wins digital Indycar race

Virgin Australia Supercars Champion Scott McLaughlin has claimed the first victory in his IndyCar career after taking out the second round of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge. Achieving the feat on a simulator half way around the world, McLaughlin was too good against the fancied competition after edging out teammate and Australian Will Power, as well as three-time Global RallyCross champion Scott Speed to win the Virtual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

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Media Rights, Broadcasting - AFL live on YouTube? It could all be part of sport's post-coronavirus future

In 2016, Twitter forked out $US10 million to stream 10 weekly NFL matches on its social media network, all over the world. It was one of the first big signs for sports administrators, including those in Australia, that the way live sports broadcasts were valued, was starting to change. Experts say the leagues that rely on traditional media for revenue could benefit from a different approach.

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Media Rights, Broadcasting - Nine expects to save $130 million from the NRL

In a presentation to JP Morgan Virtual Conference, the media company outlined $266 million in cost savings, the bulk of it coming from its rights deal with NRL should the games be called off. The costs are split for each half of the year, saving Nine $65 million should the competition be played in the second half of 2020.

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Media Rights, Broadcasting - Australia’s Broadcasters Foresee Savings From Canceled Sports Events

Powered by massive commodity exports and close business links to China, Australia had enjoyed some 18 years of economic expansion. That has almost certainly come to an end, as the world heads for a recession caused by travel restrictions and stay-at-home measures ordered by governments to combat the spread of the virus.

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