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Sky, RFL strike Super League payments deal

UK pay-television broadcaster Sky has today (Monday) confirmed an agreement with the Rugby Football League over Super League clubs’ television revenues for the 2020 season, which remains suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2020 Super League season was put on hold in mid-March, with the RFL hoping that it will resume behind closed doors in mid-August.

Sky, the RFL and Super League said an agreement has been reached that recognises the “huge disruption” to this season’s fixture calendar, and the “significant impact” it has had on broadcasting schedules.

Under the deal, Sky will reportedly not reduce payments for the 2020 season, but will instead lower fees for 2021. While no terms were disclosed, The Guardian newspaper on Friday reported that each club – with the exception of Toronto Wolfpack, which does not receive any broadcast income from  the Sky deal – will receive around £280,000 (€310,000/$347,000) less in 2021.

The three parties said the pact will enable the sport to plan to the end of the 2021 season, when the current Sky deal ends, with greater financial certainty. The agreement is subject to the league resuming action this season.

The rights contract is worth around £37m per year and there had been concerns that rebates would be requested this year, at a time when many clubs are struggling financially due to the season being postponed.

The UK government has granted an emergency loan of £16m to support rugby league in England as a result of the pandemic.

Commenting on today’s agreement, Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone said in a statement: “Rugby league’s 25-year relationship with Sky Sports has been built on a genuine partnership that has never been more evident than during the Covid-19 crisis.

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement which acknowledges the disruption to Sky Sports’ Super League schedules but gives our clubs greater financial certainty moving forward in these challenging times. Our resilience will continue to be tested – but we are grateful to Sky for their ongoing support.”

The RFL’s current deal with Sky was questioned in some quarters when it was announced in 2014. At the time, RFL chairman Brian Barwick hit back at criticism, claiming that it came with “significantly enhanced” financial terms.

Sky extended its deal for the Super League in a five-year contract, from 2017 to 2021. The broadcaster, which shows live coverage of at least 80 Super League matches per season, also secured live rights for Challenge Cup knockout tournament matches, second-tier Championship matches and the annual World Club Challenge.

The agreement was said to be worth around £200m, but Super League clubs Wigan Warriors and Salford Red Devils were both critical of how the deal was approved.