Plans to broadcast more games of Australia’s Super Rugby competition on free-to-air TV in an effort to grow the game’s audience could very well backfire for the code, with Foxtel chief executive, Patrick Delany, indicating that the pay-TV provider would be renegotiating the value of the rights if the plans do go ahead.
News Corp-controlled Foxtel has shown Super Rugby, which currently features teams and games spread across Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan, since 1996 and reportedly pays AUS$15 million for the Australian broadcast rights, while it also sub-licensing a one-match re-run to free-to-air network Ten for AUS$4 million, according to the Australian Financial Review.
The competition’s current broadcast deal, which was signed in December 2015 and covers multiple territories, expires at the end of next season.
Speaking to the Australian Financial Review, Delany warned that Rugby Australia’s intention to put more games in front of the paywall would affect Foxtel’s level of exclusivity and therefore reduce the value it attributes to Super Rugby content.
“Rugby has only ever been on Fox, Super Rugby was invented by Fox, it has always been on Fox,” Delany said.
“If they want to put some on free-to-air, that’s fine, but it changes the whole value equation for us.”
“We’ve been a massive supporter of rugby,” added Delany.
“Last time we were the only bidder for the rugby rights and we maintained the price to support rugby and that’s sometimes the way in which we see these sports, so we’ll see.
“Our subscribers like rugby, it’s all about what value and what price we get.”
Rugby Australia’s plan to televise more Super Rugby games for free in order to expand potential audience reach comes at a challenging time for the sport of rugby union in Australia, where other football codes, including the Australian Football League (AFL) and National Rugby League (NRL), provide stiff competition.
Attendances at Super Rugby fixtures have declined in recent years, while the competition’s multi-nation footprint means games are played at a variety of times and fewer fixtures capture the attention of Australian viewers.
Delany’s latest comments follow plans announced by Foxtel earlier this year to drop coverage of ‘non-marquee sporting content’ to reduce costs after the network made a loss of AUS$417 million in 2018.
Commenting at the time, Foxtel did not specify which sports could be affected by its move to rein in spending, although it has previously been speculated that Super Rugby could be among those to feel the pinch.