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Australia's NRL sees revenue plunge $102m in COVID-19 year

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia's National Rugby League posted a A$24.7 million ($19.36 million) deficit in 2020, with revenue plunging A$130 million, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the season, officials said on Friday.

The top-flight rugby competition featured 20% less games in the 2020 championship, with reduced crowds, broadcast and commercial revenue due to the pandemic.

"The game faced financial catastrophe when we were forced to suspend the season in March," chairman Peter V'landys said.

"I’m pleased to report that because we were able to resume the season so quickly and renegotiate new deals with our partners, the game finished the financial year in much stronger shape than first predicted."

Revenue from the annual "State of Origin" between New South Wales and Queensland was not included because the lucrative series was postponed until after the league's new financial year from Nov. 1.

Had it been included, the deficit would have been A$3.7m.

The league said it reduced operating expenses by 32% despite a significant increase in costs to comply with COVID-19 protocols, which included chartering flights for game-day travel.

"We also completed a significant cost reduction program to make head office more cost effective," added V'landys.

Australia has been reporting zero or low single-digit cases for the last several weeks after quashing fresh outbreaks through snap lockdowns and speedy contact tracing.

The 2021 NRL season will return to a 25-round competition, with the State of Origin reverting to its usual winter slot.

The season starts on March 11 when champions Melbourne Storm host South Sydney Rabbitohs.

($1 = 1.2760 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)