The NRC, Junior Wallabies matches and even Super Rugby could be available for free in the next broadcast deal as Rugby Australia open to more “free-to-access” opportunities.
Domestic rugby in Australia has been on pay TV since Super Rugby’s 1996 inception but that could change after 2020, with Rugby AU open to streaming more content for free.
Under the current deal, only Wallabies Tests are shown live on Free-to-Air while one Super Rugby match is shown on delay on One each weekend.
Two NRC matches every weekend are also streamed on the FOX SPORTS website at the moment, for a subscription fee, along with two broadcast live on TV.
While it is unlikely that any more matches would be shown on free-to-air commercial channels, Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle said that there would likely be more opportunity to open up access to the content.
“It's part of the process that we'll bring to the negotiation table as a strategic focus area for us, recognising that for Fox and for Channel Ten what's important is that more people engage with rugby,” she said.
“So how do we do that is we've got to make sure rugby is accessible to more people and that's about free-to-access, not necessarily just free-to-air, although that's certainly an option with the Wallabies which is fantastic.
"But how do we get access for either Super Rugby or NRC type products, the 20s playing in international competitions. How can we make some of that available so that all rugby fans in Australia can have access to that?”
Castle said that could come in the form of expansion to the Rugby Xplorer app, which has been the platform for simulcasting competitions like the Super W in the past.
“The days of that just being on TV is not the reality of the modern world we work in so for example on Rugby Xplorer, our own app, how can we deliver content there so people can engage with us?
“The technology's moved so much now with the Netflixes of the world, people are used to dealing and working that onto their big screen TV.
"We think it's an important conversation to think about if you're doing the broadcast deal over a period of time not what does it look like now but what might it look like in five years' time?”
The AFL and NRL both simulcast matches through Live apps, while cricket has a subscription service to open up much of its international content.
Castle admitted rugby was somewhat behind in this space, reiterating the need to balance the commercial value of the deal with exposure to the largest viewership.
“I think there's definitely things we could've done better,” she said.
“It's a really difficult balance because we need as much commercial money as we can to make sure we can invest in the game from high performance down to grassroots but we balance that by making sure we have the professional players and the heroes of our game available for the young and up and coming fans in our game to associate with and for them to create their heroes.
"That's a balancing act that we'll take into negotiations.”
The new broadcast deal kicks off in 2021 and Castle said last week there were no plans to deviate from SANZAAR or the continuation of a Super Rugby competition.