Cash-strapped Rugby Australia signs Aus$100 million broadcast deal

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Rugby Australia chairperson Hamish McLennan.
Rugby Australia chairperson Hamish McLennan.
Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Rugby Australia (RA) announced a broadcast rights deal with Nine Entertainment Monday that the financially stricken body said would "reboot the game at every level".

RA said the deal would deliver benefits worth Aus$100 million (US$73 million) over three years from 2021, with the prospect of more funds if Nine exercises a two-year extension option.

"This agreement ensures the future of our sport and this exciting new chapter enables Rugby Australia to dynamically grow the game from the grassroots up," RA chairperson Hamish McLennan said.

The package values rugby's broadcast rights significantly lower than the Aus$285 million over five years RA received under a deal with Foxtel, Channel 10 and BSkyB that expired last year.

But it will still come as a relief to RA, which had been without a long-term broadcast partner after an ill-timed push to secure more television cash coincided with the Covid-19 crisis throwing the sporting calendar into turmoil.

The poor handling of the issue was cited as one of the reasons former chief executive Raelene Castle quit in April.

RA was dealt a further financial blow in September, when Qantas Airways scrapped a long-running sponsorship deal reportedly worth Aus$5.0 million ($3.6 million) annually.

A broadcast deal will not only help RA stabilise its finances, it will also allow it to finalise negotiations on the future format of Super Rugby and, potentially, make it more attractive to private equity investors.

'Cash and contra'

RA said the package still needed final approval from its partners in the southern hemisphere's Sanzaar governing body - South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina.

Under the deal, Nine will show rugby on its free-to-air television network and its Stan streaming service, which has about two million subscribers.

Most games - including the bulk of Super Rugby and home Tests for the Wallabies and other SANZAAR nations -- will be behind a paywall on Stan.

However, one Super Rugby AU match and the competition's finals series will be available free-to-air on Nine, potentially bringing in a large new audience to a sport that has suffered dwindling viewer numbers in recent years.

Nine said the package's headline figure of Aus$100 million included both "cash and contra", which is believed to include free advertising for the sport.

It did not give a breakdown of how much cash RA will receive.

The deal ends RA's 25-year association with Foxtel, the pay-TV operator majority-owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. that helped usher the game into the professional era.

"We have enjoyed great highs over our 25-year partnership and would not be in the position we are today without their support," RA interim chief executive Rob Clarke said.

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