The NRL's $120 million news website is live

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The National Rugby League’s new $120 million digital business will not cannibalise the audiences of existing media organisations, the NRL’s digital boss insists.

NRL Digital, encompassing a new central news website, and sites and apps across the competition’s 16 teams, went live on Tuesday afternoon, in a sweeping change designed for rugby league to take control of and better commercialise its online assets.

Rebekah Horne, the NRL’s chief digital officer, played down concerns from News Corporation about having to compete with the league’s news service, saying: “We have excellent partnerships with our existing rights holders in Fox Sports, Telstra and Nine [Entertainment Co.] and there will be a promotion of their coverage. But we think this will also help with our direct engagement with our fans.”

The NRL has taken control of its digital assets from Telstra under the terms of its $1 billion broadcast deal signed two years ago. Telstra still retains streaming rights and has built a new NRL app in conjunction with the league. The NRL and Telstra will also share some commercial income, although Ms Horne would not reveal the split.

NRL.com will feature respected journalists such as former Fairfax Media reporters Brad Walter and Michael Chammas, but Ms Horne said the venture would focus on providing better content to customers and, in particular, having extensive data-mining capabilities that would allow the NRL and its clubs to better understand and service its fans.

‘Meaningful relationships’

“Digital is important for everything that we do across the entire business,” Ms Horne said. “The success of this venture will be measured if we can create more meaningful relationships with our fans and engage with them more closely … giving them content they want that is tailored for them.”

That will include more news, both on the central NRL website and app and sites across the club’s digital assets, with a particular focus on video content.

But Ms Horne said the digital business, which has about 75 employees, was also designed to make it easier for fans to buy memberships, tickets and merchandise, and for its clubs to better market themselves to existing and prospective fans, with visitors to the sites and apps required to register. “The key is to increase the awareness of and the engagement in the sport.”

The league has already signed Holden, insurer Youi, Harvey Norman and Telstra as digital sponsors, although Ms Horne said the NRL still had some digital packages to sell.

Clubs would be able to mine data to sell memberships and tickets to fans, and each will pay the NRL $178,000 to buy back their digital advertising space to then on-sell.

This article was originally published by the Australian Financial Review. Read the original here, or follow the AFR on Facebook.

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