In the latest interactive monthly data report, SportBusiness Media analyses the rugby union media-rights landscape.
Further detail on the deals covered in this interactive data report is available with our Rights Tracker tool – click here for more information.
Sanzaar’s four member unions are Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The central Sanzaar organisation usually sells media rights to the cross-border Super Rugby club competition, national-team competition The Rugby Championship, and the home Tests of each member nation in most territories outside their respective domestic markets.
Rugby Australia, New Zealand Rugby and the South Africa Rugby all have domestic media rights deals in place for 2021-25. Only the Argentine Rugby Union is yet to agree a domestic deal from 2021 onward. In the most valuable domestic territory, New Zealand, Sky New Zealand has agreed a five-year renewal with NZR, from 2021 to 2025. This was sharply up from the broadcaster’s fee for the previous deal, from 2016 to 2020. Rugby Australia and South Africa Rugby’s deals in their domestic territories stayed close to flat, cycle on cycle.
Sanzaar competitions have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting travel restrictions. This has led to a restructuring of the annual Super Rugby competition for 2021, which fragmented into two domestic competitions: Super Rugby Aotearoa in New Zealand and Super Rugby Australia. Along with Super Rugby, South Africa Rugby also withdrew from last year’s Rugby Championship.
The international deals in place for 2021 are worth less than a fifth of the total value of the international deals in the previous cycle, minus revenue from key international markets where deals have not yet been announced, such as the United Kingdom and France. The UK was the most valuable international market in the last cycle: pay-television broadcaster Sky agreed to a huge fee increase to secure the full Sanzaar rights package.
There are plans to restart a multi-territory Super Rugby competition later in 2021 or next year, but they are contingent on the easing of the pandemic.
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National rugby unions and Six Nations
Before 2021, the six rugby unions in England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales sold the domestic and international media rights to their home international tests (outside of the Six Nations) in individually negotiated deals. The six constituent unions agreed in February 2020 to pool media rights to the Autumn Internationals and other international matches with the existing Six Nations rights to create a new product, sold centrally by Six Nations Rugby, an entity owned by the six constituent federations of the Six Nations championships.
Following the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, Six Nations Rugby has paused the sales process for the next cycle of domestic and international rights to the Six Nations and Autumn Internationals. Six Nations Rugby is understood to have received several competitive bids for the Six Nations before it paused the process; however, interest in the Autumn Internationals was said to have been limited. The discussions with broadcasters resumed in February 2021 from where they were left off.
Autumn Internationals were replaced in 2020 by the new Autumn Nations Cup competition comprising the Six Nations countries, Fiji and Georgia. Tech giant Amazon acquired rights in the UK to 14 of the tournament’s 16 matches. It shared coverage of one of its allotted matches with commercial broadcaster Channel 4.
In March 2021, private equity giant CVC Capital Partners sealed an investment deal with Six Nations Rugby. Under the terms of the ‘long-term strategic partnership’, CVC Fund VII will invest up to £365m for a 14.3-per-cent share in Six Nations Rugby, working alongside the unions of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales, which will together retain an 85.7-per-cent share.
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Club and international rugby union club competitions
Domestic club rugby union club competitions are some of the most valuable rugby properties globally.
In March 2021, Pay-television broadcaster Canal Plus retained rights to the French rugby union’s Top 14, paying an increase of about 17 per cent on its previous deal. Canal Plus will hold exclusive rights to the Top 14 in a four-season deal, from 2023-24 to 2026-27. The broadcaster currently holds exclusive pay-television rights to the league, from 2019-20 to 2022-23. Public-service broadcaster France Télévisions holds free-to-air rights over the same period to the Top 14 final.
Shortly before the end of 2020, UK telco BT also renewed its rights to the most important UK rugby union competition, Premiership Rugby, in a deal from 2021-22 to 2023-24. The current deal covers 2015-16 to 2020-21. UK commercial broadcaster Channel 5 also holds free-to-air rights to the competition in a four-season deal. The agreement runs from 2017-18 to 2020-21. Under the deal, Channel 5 broadcasts five live matches each season and shows a highlights programme every Sunday night.
Aside from domestic leagues, the pan-regional competitions operated by European Professional Club Rugby are the most valuable in Europe. EPCR runs the top-tier Champions Cup and second-tier Challenge Cup. The two most valuable territories for the competitions are France and the United Kingdom.
In France, France Télévisions and pay-television broadcaster beIN Sports holds rights from 2018-19 to 2021-22. The value of the current deals is an increase of between 47 and 55 per cent compared to the value of the same rights in the previous four-season cycle, from 2014-15 to 2017-18.
In the United Kingdom, BT Sport and commercial broadcaster Channel 4 have two separate four-season deals. Channel 4 holds rights to show nine live Champions Cup matches per season: six group-stage matches, one quarter-final, one semi-final, and the final. BT holds pay-television rights covering all matches.
The Pro14 cross-border rugby union league is another valuable media rights property. The league originally consisted of 12 teams – four in Wales, four in Ireland, two in Scotland and two in Italy – in 2017 added two South African sides: the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings. Thus, the league’s current most valuable media deals are in England with pay-television broadcaster Premier Sports; in Sub-Saharan Africa with pay-television broadcaster SuperSport; and in Ireland with telco Eir and Irish-language channel TG4.
Click on each property icon to filter historical media-rights value information.
Click on the property icon first and then select the market to filter historical media-rights value information.