The pressure to keep up with The AFL and NRL, who both simulcast matches through Live apps, has opened Rugby Australia to the idea of more “free-to-access” opportunities in the next broadcast deal.
This would mean the NRC, Junior Wallabies matches and even Super Rugby could be available to viewers for free after 2020.
Domestic rugby in Australia has been on pay TV since Super Rugby’s inception in 1996 and under the current deal, only Wallabies Tests are shown live on Free-to-Air while one Super Rugby match is shown on delay via One each weekend.
Two NRC matches every weekend are also streamed on the FOX SPORTS website at the moment, for a subscription fee, along with two broadcast live on TV.
While it is unlikely that any more matches would be shown on free-to-air commercial channels, Rugby AU CEO, Raelene Castle, said that there would likely be more opportunity to open up access to the content.
“It’s part of the process that we’ll bring to the negotiation table as a strategic focus area for us, recognising that for Fox and for Channel Ten what’s important is that more people engage with rugby,” she said.
“So how do we do that is we’ve got to make sure rugby is accessible to more people and that’s about free-to-access, not necessarily just free-to-air, although that’s certainly an option with the Wallabies which is fantastic.
With other codes in Australia already adopting live streaming, Castle admitted rugby was somewhat behind in this space, reiterating the need to balance the commercial value of the deal with exposure to the largest viewership.
“I think there are definitely things we could’ve done better,” she said.
“It’s a really difficult balance because we need as much commercial money as we can to make sure we can invest in the game from high performance down to grassroots, but we balance that by making sure we have the professional players and the heroes of our game available for the young and up and coming fans in our game to associate with and for them to create their heroes.
“That’s a balancing act that we’ll take into negotiations.”
The new broadcast deal kicks off in 2021 and Castle said last week there were no plans to deviate from SANZAAR or the continuation of a Super Rugby competition.