Written by John Davidson
It’s less than six months until the rescheduled 2021 World Cup kicks off in the UK, and still no television broadcast deal for Australia has been secured.
The tournament, pushed back a year from 2021 after the Kangaroos and Kiwis pulled out, officially begins on October 15 when England face Samoa at St James’ Park in Newcastle. All 61 games of the men’s, women’s and wheelchair games will be shown by the BBC in the UK, either on their free-to-air TV channels or via their associated digital platforms.
In New Zealand, the World Cup will be broadcast by Spark Sport, instead of Sky TV. And in Papua New Guinea, commercial TV station EM TV has the rights.
But in Australia, the biggest TV market in the world for rugby league, has remained eerily quiet.
Everything Rugby League approached the World Cup organisers earlier this month to ask about the Aussie rights to the World Cup and was told “conversations are ongoing”.
😤 Some hit by Daejarn Asi!
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) May 1, 2022
According to reports by Fairfax Media, the Australian broadcast rights had originally been sold for $5 million to Sports Flick, a start-up pay-per-view streaming service. But that deal fell apart last year when Sports Flick collapsed amid allegations of fraud and intense legal battles.
World Cup organisers never received the money from Sports Flick, and had to start from scratch looking for a new broadcast partner.
One source told Everything Rugby League recently: “There was a deal but it was undone due to circumstances not in their doing. The organisers had to go back to start, hence the timeline. There’s options, they’re just making the right choice for the game.”
It cannot be understated how important the TV deal for Australia is. Australia has the most rugby league fans and generates the highest ratings. The International Rugby League is a cash-poor organisation that relies on the World Cup every four years to make money, both from ticket sales, sponsorships and TV deals.
It needs this World Cup to be a success, both on and off the field.
The last World Cup, back in 2017, was held in Australia and the games were broadcast by Channel Seven. But the tournament was far from a commercial hit, did not generate big crowds or huge ratings. Many of the matches were shifted from Seven’s main channel to its digital offshoot 7mate. The wider marketing and promotion of that World Cup was poor.
🤯 Wow – Morgan Knowles with an incredible cover tackle 👏
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) April 30, 2022
The market to watch live sport – whether it be via television, computer, tablet or phone – has changed dramatically in the past five years.
In January last year World Cup organisers told NRL.com that the entry of streaming services like Stan and Amazon Prime could benefit international rugby league. They were upbeat and positive. But 15 months on we still have no deal.
Channel Nine and Fox Sports, the two main broadcasters of the NRL down under, have shown little interest in the international game. All they care about is the NRL. Most of the newspaper media in Sydney and Brisbane is the same. The NRL is king, queen, prince and princess. International footy is the fourth cousin.
Considering the timezone challenges, and being out of season in October and November, it won’t be easy to secure an Australian broadcaster for the World Cup. However, it is vital and hugely important.
The sport not only needs the money that those rights generate, it also needs a quality broadcaster who will treat the tournament with the respect and care it deserves. It is no mean feat, but at the same time, the clock is ticking.