Rugby: A rundown of the proposed 2021-2025 SANZAAR TV package for Rugby in Australia, who will win the rights?

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Image Reference: Simon Sees via Flickr, 21/2/16, (CC BY 2.0)

After the end of this year, the new SANAAR TV Rights deal begins from 2021-2025.

So far, SuperSport will most likely continue to be on board for South African viewers while in New Zealand, Sky Sport followed a similar route as SuperSport’s having fended off a bid from rival TVNZ/Spark Sport.

The two heavily rugby focused countries can focus right now on making their organization bodies secure thanks to COVID-19.

Australia

On the other hand, Rugby Australia has yet to decide which broadcaster will hold rights over the next five years.

Likewise, the finalization of the bidding process is on hold due to COVID-19 plus we may know that the uncertain future of Raelene Castle after her poor leadership with this governing body could change everything in this bidding race.

It’s a hard take considering the popularity of this sport here is a lot behind compared to AFL & NRL.

And for the first time in a long time, the rights became open for anyone to bid rather than doing the exclusive first refusal talk with Fox Sports before going to anyone else.

Image Reference: BrianM91 via Wikipedia, 29/6/18, (CC BY 4.0)

Fox Sports

Fox Sports via FOXTEL boss Patrick Delany began scaling down funds on airing non-essential sports that don’t benefit the overall business.

Besides, they offloaded plenty of on-air staff as part of this overhaul.

The likes of Nick McArdle, Drew Mitchell, Sean Maloney, Lou Ransome & Nat Yolanndis had left before the new Super Rugby season started.

Instead, you see Greg Clark hosting/commentating, which for him the workload has increased this year rather than just calling alone over the past few years.

Alongside Clark, the original expert team has retained:

  • Tim Horan
  • George Gregan
  • Phil Kearns
  • Rod Kafer

Such a small group isn’t it.

And on a relief & pay per play basis, Andrew Swain is the only backup caller when Clark is unavailable as well as voicing the Super Rugby Highlights show on Monday nights.

So does Stephen Hoiles for NSW, ACT & VIC encounters & Greg Martin for QLD games, respectively.

The harsh reality about Fox Sports’ budget cuts is that they refused to bid higher for the next TV package than what they paid over the last five years.

It doesn’t mean they don’t want it regarding the content they produce but still want to be the frontline media source of rugby union in this country.

So in their opinion, cost shouldn’t be much of a priority for them.

For Rugby Australia, it is in a way to breed grassroots rugby & salary of their players both domestically and nationally.

That’s what made Rugby Australia upset their current partner to walk away from the process.

Image Reference: Simon Sees via Flickr, 21/2/16, (CC BY 2.0)

Optus

While Foxtel isn’t waiting forever to hear from Rugby Australia about their plans in the media, enter a new player to the race, Optus Sport.

This organization began airing sports content in 2016 when they first won the rights to broadcast the Premier League soccer in England from the hands of Fox Sports.

Since then, despite the 2018 FIFA World Cup technical issues, Optus built a stable key source for soccer fans across Australia to catch up with their favorite teams every week during the English season.

The domestic A-League competition doesn’t count as the popularity there isn’t strong as cricket & Tennis plus Optus doesn’t hold the rights too.

It’s not just the Premier League. They’re mainly focusing but also expanded to European soccer such as the UEFA Champions League & UEFA Europa League.

It’s quite clear to say that Optus is the new home of soccer in Australia, and there’s no doubt they will hold on the mantle for the next years to come.

Now Optus would like another sport they want to build on that can take off the particular content workload of soccer & that is rugby union.

If they do get the rights to all packages, then this will be a game-changer in an opportunity to provide a second established fan base & source to watch all of the rugby content after soccer in Australia.

Image Reference: Rugby Ball on the ground, Pikrepo, (CC BY 1.0)

What will the 2021-2025 TV SANZAAR package look like?

Firstly, The return of rugby magazine shows will be crucial for their fans to get into the know each mid-week as a preview of the Friday & Saturday games in which we haven’t seen like this since the end of 2018.

I know there’s a Monday Highlights package for all the Super Rugby games from Friday & Saturday, but again, there’s no insight on what lies ahead for the upcoming match-up ahead.

Secondly, whoever wins the rights; they can have a variety of games to keep their subscribers happy:

  • Friday Night: Super Rugby in New Zealand & Australia
  • Saturday Afternoon: Shute Shield/QLD Premier Rugby
  • Saturday Late Afternoon/Early Evenings: Super Rugby in New Zealand & Australia
  • Sunday Morning: Super Rugby over in South Africa & Argentina

If true, it would be awesome to buy these snacks off takeaway/groceries & enjoy a whole Saturday’s worth of kicking, passing & running with the Gilbert ball.

Once each Super Rugby portion is done and dusted, another fantastic part of winning the rights is airing International matches all year long, which will rate well involving the Wallabies playing at home.

Plus, we will see a new provincial Mitre 10 Cup-style competition involving combined semi-professional sides play each other that we usually see in separate Shute Shield/QLD Premier matches.

To everyone, it would be a massive step forward when some Wallabies stars give back to the local community of their stripes as well as the youth replicating their game at the same time, so there’s a good chance that they can become future Internationals too.

Image Reference: Kids practising a game of Rugby, PXfuel, (CC BY 1.0)

At the moment, the National Rugby Championship is a short run tournament, usually from late August to October.

Unfortunately, there’s not much promise to say regarding the lack of TV coverage here as well as the quality of players formed on state-based teams that Rugby Australia organized in this current provincial competition.

They now learned their lesson and want to change all of that in a way club rugby will most likely benefit the country’s Super Rugby & International squads outmuscle the elite so they can get the silverware they want, which hasn’t made it happen for a long time.

Anything else?

Other online sports platforms like Amazon, Rugby Pass & DAZN would be outside contenders.

These three companies have built a library of content focusing on several critical sports over the last few years.

While there’s no doubt that they can be a real threat to Foxtel & Optus, it will depend on how much cash they can offer to this governing body.

In regards to the interest amongst free-to-air networks, Nine and Seven aren’t interested as they’re happy with their NRL & AFL coverage, respectively.

So no change there unless Rugby Australia would want to make a separate bid for the Wallabies games only.

Image Reference: Richard Croft via Geograph.co.uk, 30/11/13, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Yes, it would like these two to think again and show how proud the country is performing against the world in rugby union.

But Rugby Australia would like to keep all eggs in one basket with one subscription & free to air partner.

ABC & SBS would prove to be too expensive to pay unless Fox Sports gives them a full match feed to simulcast, which will cost them $0 and no value amongst viewers to give back in the end.

Think about the A-League on ABC right now with no form of content on their own & being stuck with only Fox Sports, it’s not a good look for soccer in this country, and that’s a lesson Rugby Australia must learn to leave this idea.

And at last, Network 10, of whom has a great partnership with Rugby Australia since they’ve aired Wallabies games in 2013.

Also, they’ve assembled an excellent on-air crew too.

You’ve got the voice of Rugby in Gordon Bray as the primary caller alongside former Fly-Half and current 10 News First Sydney sports anchor, Matt Burke, in the booth.

Having added a delayed Super Rugby match on Sunday mornings alongside the home Wallabies games since 2016, they’d like to extend their relationship even further with one live game on Saturday night involving an Australian Super Rugby team.

Image Reference: BrianM91 via Wikipedia, 29/6/18, (CC BY 4.0)

It would be helpful for Network 10 to add a club rugby game like Shute Shield & QLD Premier Rugby as well as the proposed provincial championship on Saturday afternoons.

We all know the current Shute Shield/QLD Premier Rugby TV holders management will be under Rugby Australia next year.

But no linked sources are saying that Network 10 would be happy to add club rugby to their existing content at least one match a week on Saturdays alongside Wallabies & Super Rugby.

While this may be a bummer if you’ve watched plenty of club rugby TV, then your best bet would be to attend these games in person or subscribe to a service.

However, it’s an encouraging time right now for Network 10 to air a live Super Rugby match for the first time, which would be a huge step forward for the greater good of rugby in Australia.

That way, it’s healthy to have a balance of most content under a paywall while still retain some of the critical packages for free.

Image Reference: David Molloy via Wikipedia, 8/7/17, (CC BY 2.0)

Now once COVID-19 ends & the possible ousting of current Managing Director Raelene Castle, the race on becoming the Home of Rugby in Australia is still alive.

We just have to wait and see how the possible new TV partners will lift the sport to the next level in Australia over the next five years.

And to predict who will win the race, Optus will crown the pay-tv portion with all the games.

On the other hand, Network 10 will still be around with the usual Wallabies matches plus one Super Rugby live game, and if they can make Saturday’s great again, then finish off a good line of free content with Club Rugby almost all year long.

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