Rugby Australia Lays Groundwork for 2021 Broadcasts

There are just a few scant days until the 2020 season of Super Rugby gets underway.

While we view the code as something to fill the time, roughly six weeks, until the start of the Telstra 2020 NRL Premiership competition, there are plenty of Super Rugby supporters who view the code as the purer form of football.

Regardless of where your loyalties lay, union, league, or both, Rugby Australia is looking forward to continuing in 2020 what was a good year in 2019, showing encouraging growth in TV viewership.

This 2020 season is the year when Super Rugby enters what, were we discussing players, its free agency period. This is the last year that Fox Sports holds the exclusive broadcast rights and RA chief executive Raelene Castle spoke recently about the prospects of having other broadcasters bid for the broadcast rights.

“We believe that we have more than one party that’s prepared to step forward and have a serious look at the rights for rugby,” Castle remarked at the Super Rugby season launch on Thursday.

It might help Super Rugby if the broadcast rights were to be divided, much as the NFL does with Fox holding the rights to the National Football Conference and CBS serving as the primary broadcaster for the American Football Conference. Other networks also have a minor stake.

It is hard to say whether Super Rugby can draw an audience that would support multiple broadcasters, but if Castle is correct in her assessment, it might make sense to divvy Super Rugby broadcast rights to two or more broadcasters.

Castle claimed that while the top bid would be the primary selection criterion, RA would also be looking for how the broadcasts are made available to viewers. She seems to favour a model where some games would be free-to-air, with other games being viewable on a paid subscription basis.

The AFL and the NRL have successfully adopted a combination approach and it has been successful in other parts of the world.

Super Rugby may not yet be at that stage, but the union code might need to move in that direction in order to be something other than a way to get a rugby fix while waiting for the NRL season.