Shake up for rugby TV rights
RUGBY Australia’s revolutionary broadcast package has reignited interest from Optus, with the telco set to land the rights to the code.
Fox Sports is set to bid for club rugby only, after RA announced broadcasters could pick and choose content from their new package for 2021-25.
The Courier-Mail understands the new deal will involve Optus and Network Ten screening Wallabies Tests and Super Rugby, although there is some disagreement regarding the finer details.
Should Optus get the rights, it would add to their football content, having secured rights to the English Premier League and European Champions League, as well as the Japanese and Korean competitions, while they have been strongly tipped to take the Australian A-League from Fox Sports after this season.
When asked for comment, Optus said: “We don’t comment on rights, either current or future.”
An industry source said all conversations regarding deals of this nature were conducted under strict nondisclosure agreements.
RA’s revelation on Monday that they would consider bids for parts of their 2021-25 package, as opposed to traditional deals where bidders had to take the whole offering, means prospective broadcasters can be creative with their pitch.
Hiving off different tournaments to different outlets may allow RA to maximise the outlay on the code for the next four years, given all bids are expected to be lower than the $57-million-a-year they earn from rights under the expiring deal.
Sources said a bid from Optus would have to be around the $15m to $20m mark.
Fox Sports, having broadcast Super Rugby since its inception 25 years ago, has long held frustration with the diminishing rugby audience, particularly for Super Rugby, however it wants to retain some content for its pay television and Kayo streaming customers.
With a small but rusted-on supporter base for club rugby in Sydney and Brisbane, Fox Sports — owned by News Corp Australia — can keep a foothold in the game without exhausting millions in production costs for high level matches.
New Zealand Rugby has been given a three-week deadline to commit to a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition for 2021 that includes all five Australian teams, or else RA will walk away and form its own domestic tournament.
The ultimatum was delivered on Monday by RA interim chief executive Rob Clarke, who also revealed plans for an exciting Champions Leaguestyle “Super Eight” competition involving the best teams from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and South America.
RA is taking “the largest and most comprehensive collection of rugby rights ever put to the market in Australia”, Clarke said, but most intrigue revolves around the future of Super Rugby and whether the Tasman alliance will be broken not only for next year but the long term.
“We have put a deadline for the broadcast submissions for the fourth of September, so three weeks away, and before we enter into any final negotiations with a broadcast partner this has to be settled,” Clarke said. “So D-Day is coming.”
NZR had outlined its own Super Rugby proposal last month that could only have two or three Australian teams.
Asked on Monday if RA would consider cutting any teams as a compromise to make the trans-Tasman model work, Clarke was emphatic. “No,” he said.
“We’ve been very consistent on that.
“We’re increasingly buoyed by the quality of games we’re now starting to see in our (Super Rugby AU) competition, the two games on the weekend showed how much rising talent is coming through with our young players, and this competition is really starting to engage fans and showcase the future of Australian rugby.
“We’ve been saying this to New Zealand, and anyone who is prepared to listen, we’re very confident in the quality of our up and coming talent, and it’s starting to show.”
The basis of a domestic tournament would be the existing five teams: NSW Waratahs, Queensland Reds, ACT Brumbies, Melbourne Rebels and Western Force. RA is also looking at adding one or two Japanese teams, and Fiji’s Drua, though none are guaranteed for 2021.
RA is clearly frustrated by the slow response from the Kiwis and, after weeks of little headway between Clarke and NZR counterpart Mark Robinson, Australia is taking a myway-or-the-highway approach to these negotiations.