National Rugby League expansion is "firmly back on the agenda" after the NRL announced plans to invest more than A$200M ($181M) to "make rugby league the No. 1 code in Australia within four years," according to Brad Walter of the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD. Bolstered by a A$49.4M profit in his first year in the job, NRL CEO Dave Smith "declared the game was now a big business -- and would behave like one -- as it searched for new opportunities." Smith: "Rugby league is poised for growth in a way that it never has before and we will consider growth, and we will make rugby league even stronger and healthier than it is today" (SMH, 2/25). In Melbourne, Jon Pierik reported citing "participation numbers around the country," Smith said, "Wind the clock forward five years and we will be the biggest sporting community in the country." The investment includes a A$120M growth fund to "help develop grassroots competitions, NRL clubs and stadium infrastructure." A sub-committee will be "charged with overseeing what has been termed" as an A$80M war chest. While Australian Football League side Sydney Swans CEO Andrew Ireland said that the New South Wales market was "big enough for the three winter codes to co-exist, including rugby union, he admits rugby league now has the resources to match the might of the AFL" (THE AGE, 2/25). In Sydney, Stuart Honeysett reported the NRL's other targets for '17 include "doubling club membership" from 228,000 to 400,000; increasing average crowds from 13,000 to 20,000; increasing participating rates from 550,000 to 700,000; and expanding "social media reach from 4.8 million to 5.8 million" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 2/25).
FUTURE FOCUS: In Brisbane, John Stensholt reported Australian Rugby League Commission board member Graeme Samuel will head a committee charged with overseeing an A$80M "future or 'sustainability'" fund. The fund will be "invested commercially and target returns" of at least 3-4% above CPI annually. It is "likely a fund manager will invest the funds on behalf of the sport," with Samuel heading a committee that will "oversee the investment." Smith said that A$30M spending "had already been identified," including A$2M to "improve the stadium experience for fans" and A$5M to assist NRL clubs to "recruit new and service existing members" (BRISBANE TIMES, 2/24).
Barcelona said on Monday that it has paid €13.5M ($18.6M) to the Spanish tax authorities after the club was "charged last week with tax fraud in the signing of Brazil forward Neymar," according to Iain Rogers of REUTERS. Barcelona insisted that it "had not committed any tax offence and said the payment had been made due to a 'possible difference of interpretation'" about the amount owed after signing Neymar from Santos. Barcelona said in a statement, "The aim is to cover eventual interpretations that could be given to the contracts drawn up in the operation to sign Neymar." It was not "immediately clear whether the payment would mean the fraud charges laid by a Madrid court would be dropped" (REUTERS, 2/24). Barcelona said in its statement, "The Board denies the existence of any tax related crime in relation to the fiscal obligations arising from the signing of the player. Throughout the process, the Club was receiving expert advice and at every moment the Club's auditor was informed and had access to all the documentation concerning the negotiations. As we have done so far, the Club will continue to give maximum collaboration to the Law Courts in order to clarify the facts of the case" (Barcelona).
COST ON THE RISE: In Madrid, Luis F. Rojo wrote with "every day that passes, the total cost of the Neymar signing increases a little bit more." At the moment, the price has reached €111.7M ($153.3M) if the €13.5M paid to the tax authorities on Monday is included. The transaction "started out as a signing valued at €57.1M" (MARCA, 2/24).
Super League side Bradford Bulls 2014 Ltd. consortium "have had their takeover accepted by the club's administrator," according to the BBC. Bradford was "placed into administration" on Jan. 31 after its former holding company, OK Bulls Ltd., the company of former Owner Omar Khan, entered administration. The board "will now seek ratification from the Rugby Football League." CEO Robbie Hunter-Paul said, "The ownership of the club now has to be approved by the governing body. There are right and proper protocols to follow and a due process which is still to take place. But we are extremely confident that we will receive ratification in the near future, handing us the right to operate in the sport's top flight." The Bulls "could still face a points deduction" from the Rugby Football League after going into administration for the second time in two years (BBC, 2/21).