Nine CEO Hugh Marks says the “vision” of Rugby Australia’s new administration gave him the confidence to invest in the game.
Less than 48 hours after the Wallabies beat the All Blacks 24-22 in Brisbane on Saturday night, the good news continued for Rugby Australia as Nine Entertainment Co. – together in partnership with streaming service Stan – were announced as the governing body’s new broadcast partners from 2021. The new $100 million, three-year-deal, which includes the option of a two-year extension, brings to an end their 25-year relationship with Fox Sports.
The broadcast deal, which has yet to be sold to overseas broadcasters, secures Rugby Australia’s future and promises to grow the game’s reach in Australia, with Super Rugby to be shown live on free-to-air television for the first time in its history.
Stan will also exclusively stream every Wallaroos Test, The Rugby Championship, The Bledisloe Cup, as well as all inbound Tests for Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina with select games also broadcast free-to-air on Nine. At least four club rugby matches throughout the regular season in Sydney’s Shute Shield and Brisbane’s Hospital Cup competition, as well as one finals match per weekend, will be shown on Nine, with the remaining fixtures shown live on Stan.
It also comes after one of the game’s most tumultuous years, which saw Rob Clarke replace Raelene Castle as Rugby Australia interim CEO and Hamish McLennan come on as Chairman as the code attempted to come through the COVID pandemic and secure a broadcast deal for 2021 and beyond.
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Marks, who grew up playing rugby at Scots College as a seven-year-old, admitted that Nine “weren’t there before” the change of administration, but came back to the drawing board once he spoke with Clarke in June.
“It’s only when you see those administrators who come in and are committed to a vision when you really get – I think in this environment when you are going to commit substantial sums of money –excited,” Marks told reporters on Monday.
“We’d obviously had a few chats before, but we weren’t there at that stage and there were a couple of things that really changed that.
“A new administration obviously being one (and) obviously Stan has really grown through COVID, so it’s a much bigger business that we would not have anticipated six or nine months ago.
“All of those things have come together at the right place and the right time, and once we got our heads around how we would break the sport between the various platforms, it really started to shape up.”
Nine Entertainment’s decision to bring rugby union under their umbrella means that they will broadcast both rugby and rugby league.
The broadcaster will show the NRL on Nine on Fridays and Sundays and Super Rugby on Saturdays.
But Marks dismissed any suggestions that there would be a conflict in broadcasting both codes and said, if anything, there would be opportunities for cross promotion.
Asked what impressed him about Rugby Australia’s vision, Marks said the governing body now had a clear direction and pathway under the new administration, which included keeping their young talent from changing codes to rugby league.
“Just their vision for the game,” Marks said.
“It’s something that you want to see and share, so questions today, what are the pathways for the development of rugby talent through to the principle game.
“What do they see as new formats or things that might bring to the game, what do they see as opportunities for media businesses like ourselves to be involved in the game, and that willingness to work with you. I think in the past a lot of administrators got a bit comfortable and the world had got in their way for too long and it was all a bit easy, I think it’s a lot harder these days, so you want someone that’s going to embrace that and understand what’s needed I think to drive success, and they’re simple things like players knowing what are the development pathways, what are they going to do to ensure they keep the best talent.
“We’ve seen some great rugby talent go to rugby league in the last decade. Imagine if you the Bryce Cartwrights and the Kayln Pongas and all these people playing rugby now, if the game had been able to keep them it would be an even better position than what it is today.
“But I think a lot of the junior talent you saw coming on the weekend and obviously that under-20s team coming into the game now, if they can keep the nucleus of the team and invest in that, I think it’s got a really bright future.”
Clarke revealed that the Rugby Australia board unanimously voted to sign with Nine on Thursday night.
They did so because of the potential to grow their audience and expand their commercial opportunities through free-to-air coverage.
“I think the opportunity to get Super Rugby in particular on free to air TV was a very, very significant factor,” he said.
“We believe that for both our commercial partners in the game and for the Super Rugby clubs and their commercial partners, to be able to have the extended reach that free to air provides will enable them to drive more income out of their assets and I think it’s an important part of just helping fun the whole rugby economy.”
"It’s a superior deal than our current domestic deal in both cash and contra and, of course, for the first time in Super Rugby history free to air television component."
Clarke met with Foxtel boss Patrick Delaney on Saturday to share the news that the board had rejected their offer.
The RA interim CEO – who will continue in the role until February – said that the decision was made for the betterment of the game in Australia.
“My relationship with Fox has been fantastic,” he told reporters.
“They’ve been great partners, I want to recognise that and underscore that.
“Fox were in this negotiation but we believe this is the right move for Australian rugby going forward.”
COVID-19 has meant that the planned Super Rugby 14 competition for 2021 will be changed.
Now that a broadcast deal is in place, Rugby Australia is preparing to announce their Super Rugby structure for 2021 in the coming days, with a fully integrated trans-Tasman competition likely to get off the ground from 2022.
“We’ll be announcing in the coming days the confirmed structure for next year and there will be a Super Rugby AU component and we’re well advanced with our New Zealand colleagues on a trans-Tasman component as well,” he said.
Clarke also promised that the value of their new deal would be invested at both the elite and grassroots levels of the game.
"We are looking to try and free up as much capital as possible to put back into the grassroots of the game, the development pathways of the game, coach development, officials development, and, in addition, to ensuring that our Wallabies remain successful, so it’s a whole of game solution that the resources will be built towards," he said.
Stan has yet to launch their sports package, but CEO Mike Sneesby confirmed that it will be an add-on to their entertainment package.
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