Foxtel chief issues warning over Rugby Australia rights

Australian pay-television operator Foxtel has warned that any move to increase free-to-air exposure for the Super Rugby club competition would lead to it reducing its offer for broadcast rights.

The Rugby Australia governing body is believed to be keen on increasing free-to-air coverage of rugby union in the country, with Foxtel’s current rights deal with the organisation due to expire next year.

“Rugby has only ever been on Fox, Super Rugby was invented by Fox, it has always been on Fox,” Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany told the Australian Financial Review newspaper.

“That’s fine, if they (Rugby Australia) want to put some on free-to-air, that’s fine, but it changes the whole value equation for us.”

In December 2015, Fox Sports retained rights in Australia for Test matches and tournaments operated by Sanzaar, rugby union’s governing body in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

Under the deal, Rugby Australia receives a total of Aus$285m (€171.6m/$192.4m) over five years, from 2016 to 2020 – a 148-per-cent increase on the previous rights cycle, from 2011 to 2015. The contract also includes a sublicensing element with commercial broadcaster Ten.

Concerning talk of enhanced free-to-air coverage for rugby, Delany said: “This comes up all the time with all of the sports, sometimes there are missteps, like the NRL did last time, they wanted to put four best games of NRL on free-to-air and that deal did not in the end go through because it upset the value equation so much.

“We’ll wait and see how it goes, we’ve been a massive supporter of rugby, last time we were the only bidder for the rugby rights and we maintained the price to support rugby and that’s sometimes the way in which we see these sports, so we’ll see. Our subscribers like rugby, it’s all about what value and what price we get.”