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Optus ‘not in the running’ for Rugby Australia rights

Pay-television operator Foxtel appears to be in the box seat to retain Rugby Australia’s broadcast rights after telecoms operator Optus was said to have opted against participating in the governing body’s latest invitation to tender process.

Rugby Australia last month unveiled what it claimed was the largest and most comprehensive collection of rugby rights ever assembled, with prospective broadcasters having received documentation to begin the next phase of the negotiation process.

Rugby Australia’s current five-year rights agreement with Foxtel runs from 2016 to 2020 and is worth a total of A$285m (€174.7m/$207.4m). The current agreement expires on December 31 and Rugby Australia set a deadline of September 4 for broadcasters to return submissions to the tender.

In March, Optus was considered to among the leading candidates to acquire pay-television rights in Rugby Australia’s invitation to tender process, and had reportedly begun to seek out production companies.

The national governing body issued a media-rights tender in the middle of February, seeking partners for the period spanning 2021 to 2025. However, Rugby Australia later suspended talks as then-chief executive Raelene Castle conceded that it may need to approach the government for financial assistance during the Covid-19 crisis.

In May, Optus director of sport Rich Bayliss said the company would not be bidding, rejecting talk it had been close to securing rights prior to the suspension of the process. The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, citing media industry sources, has now said Optus did not submit interest in the revised rights package.

The telco is said to be looking at alternative ways to grow its subscription base, but may yet return to the negotiating table. “We don’t comment on rights, either current or future,” Optus told the Herald.

Fox Sports broadcast the inaugural Super 12 season in 1996 and has backed Australian rugby ever since. It is said to remain interested in the sport, particularly Super Rugby and Australia Tests. Commercial broadcaster Ten, currently the free-to-air broadcaster for Australia matches, is said to have submitted a response to the latest tender.

The tender includes a variety of options for broadcasters or the opportunity to own rights to the entire package. Included amongst the inventory are the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup for the Australian men’s national team, and international Tests for the women’s national team.

A ‘State of Union’ competition between New South Wales and Queensland, with players to play for their state of birth or where they played their club rugby, is included alongside a domestic Super Rugby competition including five Australian teams, or, a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition that includes five Australian teams.

The tender also laid out the potential for a four-week Super Eight competition, to be played at the conclusion of the respective domestic Super Rugby competitions, as a cross-over championship between the top two teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as well as one team from Japan and South America.