Host broadcast ITT issued for 2021 Rugby League World Cup

A host broadcast services invitation to tender has been launched for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England, with interested companies handed a bid deadline of August 13.

Tournament organising committee RLWC2021 has issued the ITT, working on the project with the International Rugby League after the two parties reached an agreement to work together on the tender processes for broadcast production and the sale of international media rights.

A budget of between £800,000 (€885,700/$997,750) and £1.2m is understood to have been set aside for the ‘Host Broadcast Services’ contract.

A total of 16 matches from the tournament will be produced by the BBC, the UK public-service broadcaster which has already acquired rights to the tournament. A clean feed of these matches (including commentary) is to be made available to RLWC2021 to use as a world feed and with the host broadcaster to incorporate these feeds into its overall operation.

The tournament will take place across 21 venues from October 23 to November 27 next year, comprising the Men’s World Cup, but also the Women’s World Cup and Wheelchair World Cup as the three events are held concurrently for the first time. A total of 61 matches will be played.

Australian free-to-air commercial broadcaster Seven was host broadcaster at the 2017 World Cup, which was held in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Seven acquired domestic rights to the tournament in a deal with the IMG agency, which sold the international broadcast rights for both the 2013 and 2017 tournaments.

The search for an agency (or agencies) to sell the international broadcast rights to the 2021 tournament will be issued later in the year.

The 2021 tournament host broadcaster will be tasked with producing an ‘Integrated Feed’ that will vary depending on the match category. The five match category standards are:

  • 16 matches produced by the BBC (including the opening and closing ceremonies)
  • 15 matches produced to an ‘international standard production’, using a minimum of eight cameras
  • 15 matches produced to a lower specification suitable for digital broadcast, using a minimum of between five and eight cameras
  • 14 Wheelchair World Cup matches (excluding the final), using a minimum of between three and five cameras
  • The Wheelchair World Cup final, using a minimum of between five and eight cameras

Along with the production and distribution of television coverage on behalf of RLWC2021 and rights-holding broadcasters, the host broadcaster will also be responsible for the provision and operation of facilities and services required by the broadcasters.

The ITT document states that it does “not anticipate the need for a physical International Broadcast Centre (IBC)”, but asks the chosen host broadcaster to provide a “virtual resource for international broadcasters to fulfil comms, distribution and content requirements, and fulfil all functions typically associated with an IBC”.

The contract will also include the production of additional content programming to support the live output across linear and digital channels, including “commentary and on-screen talent”. A solution for the distribution of clips and highlights by RLWC2021 and partner digital teams will also be sought. The production and incorporation of English-language on-screen graphics to be included in the match feeds will also be the responsibility of the host broadcaster.

Host broadcast to “incorporate fan engagement and storytelling”

Speaking to SportBusiness about the host broadcast plans, Jonathan Neill, the tournament’s commercial director, described it as a “very ambitious project” that fits within the vision to create the “biggest and best Rugby League World Cup ever”.

Talking in the wake of the tie-up with the IRL, he said: “We control the operational, commercial and now the broadcast elements of the tournament so we’re in a really privileged position.

“We felt this would create some vital benefits for it and we’re delighted to be working with the IRL. We’re very much looking at creating a legacy and that legacy can be in many different ways so if we can create a broadcast legacy for the IRL moving forwards then that’s great.”

Neill said that the tournament organisers are looking for a host broadcaster that aligns with their vision of driving new audiences, embracing digital platforms, encouraging inclusivity and driving social impact, while also helping to identify the roles that data and technology can play in the broadcast experience.

He continued: “For people around the world, we want a more accessible [broadcast] experience incorporating fan engagement and storytelling.”

Under the hosting agreement, RLWC2021 is responsible for the operational delivery of the tournament and owns all the associated commercial rights.

The recently-announced agreement with the IRL has, according to Neill, provided organisers with “control of the content output” and “collaboration with our rights-holder”, plus the ability to “own the TV experience”.

The BBC, which acquired broadcast rights back in January 2017, has already announced that it will show all 61 matches live on its various platforms.

Prospective host broadcasters must submit their requests for more information by August 7. Presentations by the bidders will be given at the end of August.

The full tournament schedule will be unveiled on July 21 so will be known by the time bidders submit their offers. The pre-sale of tickets has been pushed back to September 21 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic but organisers are still working to their stated target of 750,000 spectators.

Neill said: “We’re working towards 750,000 fans coming to our matches so that’s business critical. We’ve got a really passionate and loyal core fan base but that won’t get us to 750,000 tickets. We think about 60 per cent of our tickets will go to our fans (with 40 per cent to ‘non-core’ fans).”