Sport Union Rugby set for $285 million broadcast shake-up

Rugby set for $285 million broadcast shake-up

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Rugby union fans might have to switch channels, with the code set to part ways with at least one major broadcaster. Photo: Getty
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Rugby Australia’s 25-year marriage to Fox Sports looks to be over, with the code’s bosses going to the market as early as this week in the hunt for a new broadcast partner.

Rugby Australia wants to package all games, including Wallabies Tests, Super Rugby, Sydney’s Shute Shield and Queensland Premier Rugby in a new deal from 2021 to 2025.

But it acknowledges going to the market “is a risk”.

“Our strategy is to provide an integrated ‘whole of rugby’ presentation to our fans and, importantly, we are confident that there is real interest from the market in this content,” an RA spokesman told the ABC.

Fox Sports has broadcast Super Rugby since the first year of the competition but talks between RA and the broadcaster over a new deal have stalled.

The most recent deal was signed with Fox Sports and Channel 10 in 2015.

It’s believed that deal was worth $285 million.

The new deal will have to involve a free-to-air broadcaster, as Wallabies tests are still on the federal government’s anti-siphoning list, which preserves high-profile sports.

Network 10 is the current broadcaster of Australian rugby tests.

A spokeswoman for Network 10 told the ABC: “We have a good, long term partnership with Rugby Australia and are looking forward to the formal broadcast rights process starting.”

Fox Sports has been shedding staff across its sports, including rugby, as it looks to cut costs and viewers desert the broadcaster.

It recently sacked its long-term rugby host Nick McArdle, and axed its weekly rugby show.

But a spokesman for RA said ratings last season for Super Rugby were “slightly up.”

The broadcaster has been losing subscribers since the advent of streaming services such as Netflix.

In late 2018 it launched Kayo, a streaming service offering its suite of sports for about a third of the price of the full Foxtel package.

Some A-League football matches have drawn fewer than 10,000 viewers, while Big Bash numbers are down by 15 per cent, but it’s not known how much of that decrease has been made up by subscribers who have dumped Fox Sports for Kayo.

RA’s testing of the market could draw out non-traditional sports broadcasters such as the streaming services.

“We never comment on commercial negotiations or speculation about broadcast rights,” Fox Sports head Peter Campbell said.

Streaming service Optus Sports, which has 825,000 current subscribers, is considered a potential bidder for the rights.

Optus already broadcasts English football’s Premier League, and this morning announced it would start broadcasting Japan’s J-League.

When asked by the ABC whether Optus would put in a bid for the rugby rights a spokesman said: “We don’t discuss speculation around commercial rights.”

-ABC

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