Meninga's radical plan for 90-minute matches
The ARL Commission will explore a radical proposal from Australia coach Mal Meninga to expand NRL matches to 90 minutes in a bid to generate millions of extra dollars in broadcast revenue for the code.
The Sunday Mail can reveal Meninga has floated the idea of extending the duration of premiership games by 10 minutes to beef-up advertising opportunities amid fears the NRL could lose money on its next broadcast deal.
Meninga tabled the idea at an NRL competition committee forum last month. The suggestion would represent one of the most seismic shifts in rugby league's 111-year history, with premiership matches having lasted 80 minutes since the birth of the sport in Australia in 1908.
The NRL's current five-year, $1.8 billion broadcast deal expires at the end of 2022 and there
are no guarantees the next contract will fetch in excess of $2b as Australia's media giants, including Channel 9 and Fox Sports, look to tighten their fiscal belts.
But Meninga is thinking outside the box to generate funds. The NRL Immortal believes longer premiership matches can open up more advertising timeslots and increase rugby league's viewing time with the networks.
The NRL is not even close to ratifying such a concept but new ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys, known for his innovation, is understood to be willing to investigate Meninga's idea.
"When you are looking at ways to maximise income, playing more minutes is something we should consider," said Kangaroos coach Meninga, also the Titans' culture chief.
"It was just a discussion in general terms. It may never come to fruition but it's important for the game to investigate ideas.
"There is a changing tide in broadcasting and we need to be mindful of that. There are a lot of things the game has to consider moving forward. We love the game and it's a great game, but we want the game to survive for another 100 years so we need to keep being innovative and creative to win the consumer dollar.
"The one thing I like about Peter V'landys is that he embraces innovation. He has shown in racing that he looks at how the product can improve and how can you align your product or sport with broadcasters to maximise revenue for the game.
"Changing the time (from 80 minutes) would certainly be a dramatic shift. It might not get any votes at all with hard-core traditional fans, but if want more money to come into the game, it might work."
The ARL Commission is already considering other models, including 25-minute quarters, but a 100-minute contest would almost certainly push players to breaking point given the brutality of NRL football.
Meninga believes 90-minute NRL matches can be divided into 30-minute thirds. The National Hockey League in North America is played in three 20-minute periods.
Two years ago, before the 2017 rugby league World Cup, Australia, Fiji and PNG played a three-period match in Suva. Fiji and PNG played for 40 minutes before Meninga's Australians had an 80-minute hitout with respective halves against Fiji and PNG.
"At the competition committee meeting, we spoke about a few models," Meninga said.
"Four quarters was mentioned but I suggested a 90-minute game with three 30-minute periods.
"You need fatigue in the game so I think 30-minute periods would create that more than 20 or 25-minute quarters. And by playing an extra 10 minutes it's more time for advertisers and broadcasters.
"Players are getting fitter every year and a 25-minute quarter would not tire them. I don't think you could play less than 30 minutes.
"I know that playing more minutes goes right away from the traditions of the game. We have played 40 minutes per half and 80 minutes a game for 100 years.
"I just think moving forward it's something we need to consider as a code.
"There is no guarantee the next TV deal will be worth more, but if we want to generate more revenue, 90-minute NRL games could work."