EFL’s cash grab shows mountain Super League must climb

24 May 23, 4:56PM 0 Comments

Written by John Davidson

The record TV deal secured by the English Football League (EFL) could prove ominous for Super League and English rugby League.

Earlier this month soccer’s EFL, covering the Championship, League One and League Two competitions, agreed a new five-year broadcast deal with Sky Sports worth £935 million – a 50% increase of the previous value of the rights. Covering all the English football below the Premier League, the contract will see over 1000 games broadcast every season and increased exposure for all EFL clubs provided through on-air and digital support from Sky Sports to promote EFL competitions, clubs, and community initiatives.

In other words, Sky has gone all-in big-time to keep hold of football.

Super League and the RFL’s broadcast deal with Sky finishes at the end of this year. Negotiations had already been on put on hold to wait until the EFL deal had been done.

Now it has been completed, the question remains – how much will be left for rugby league?

Sky had already cut the existing TV deal of £40 million a year for rugby league down to £25 million a year, and that initial £40 million a year figure had been buoyed by the introduction of BT into the market. Now there is fear from some in the sport that it could be reduced further in 2024 and beyond.

The rugby league hierarchy have tried to expand their reach and audience by handing Super League games to free-to-air broadcaster Channel 4 over the past two years and giving rights to the Championship on Monday evenings to Viaplay Sports. But both networks do not pay generous rights fees for the privilege.

The RFL has experimented with one Super League game being shown on its streaming platform Our League on a pay-per-view basis. It will trial another match on OurLeague in the weeks ahead. Have many fans paid to watch the stream? The RFL won’t comment.

The BBC continues to show Challenge Cup matches and gives the sport air-time, but does not pay generously for the content. UK rugby league and Super League, since its birth in 1996, remains wedded to Sky.

Unfortunately no other broadcaster or network inside or outside the UK appears remotely interested in the sport other than Sky. While some fans might complain about Sky’s coverage, it is the broadcaster’s pounds and pence that keep Super League full-time and professional.

Already most Super League’s clubs are in debt and have Covid loans to repay to the government. A further reduction of TV money would be another massive kick in the teeth.

Although this season has started on the back of a moderately successful home World Cup, and combined with St Helens’ World Club Challenge win over Penrith, attendances have only grown gradually. So far in 2023 Super League is averaging 8,803 fans per game, compared with 8,356 last year.

While there has been some decent action on the field and some compelling storylines off it, the sport still has a shrinking national profile. Drastic action is needed.

IMG is involved in the broadcast negotiations and changes to structure are underway. But with the EFL now grabbing a double share of Sky’s gold compared with the past, is getting an increased TV deal more like conquering Everest than conquering Nuttall?

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