On February 24, rugby league side Wigan Warriors of England’s Super League defeated Australia’s Penrith Panthers in the World Club Challenge to become the sport’s de-facto world champions for a record-equaling fifth time.

A sell-out 23,500 crowd attended the event, which was broadcast live in the UK across free-to-air (BBC), pay-TV (Sky), and on the new SuperLeague+ OTT platform which also broadcasts internationally.

The most striking change in broadcast options between the 2023 and 2024 editions of the event, besides the change in free-to-air provider from Channel 4 to BBC, is the addition of the SuperLeague+ service to the broadcast mix.

SuperLeague+, which launched in January 2024, was borne out of the 12-year strategic partnership between the Super League and international sports agency IMG that led to the creation of the Rugby League Commercial (RLC) body that controls the league’s commercial interests. 

Partnered with Endeavor Streaming (itself a part of IMG parent company Endeavor), SuperLeague+ covers all 167 matches from the 2024 Super League season live in overseas markets, while in the UK customers will be able to watch 106 games live on the service, while the other 61 that Sky Sports holds the rights for will be shown via delayed coverage and on-demand.

Speaking to Sportcal, Rhodri Jones, the managing director of RLC, stated his belief in the power the service could have to improve the content experience around the league.

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He explains: “We are providing a secondary option to people who might not necessarily be Sky Sports customers. I think there's a place in the market for both, they speak to different audiences. So, the virtue of having all 167 games [per season] available is a significant step forward for the sport.”

Importantly, he adds, SuperLeague+ opens up a new revenue stream for the league that it has never previously capitalized upon.

“We increase our audience and our visibility, and we also have the opportunity to generate some revenue from a new source that we haven't been able to do before,” he adds.

Media rights

The heightened broadcast capacity, which for the very first time sees every single game of the Super League season receive TV production, has come courtesy of the league’s latest TV rights renewal with Sky Sports, a deal that has not been without its critics.

In October, Sky renewed its partnership with the competition through 2026 with vocal rugby league personality Anthony Broxton going as far as to state in a national column that the 30 years of the Super League’s partnership with Sky has left rugby league in the UK “weaker than ever.”

While Broxton’s argument was based on the deal’s effect on the declining financial pulling power of the league, Jones offers a different perspective, stating: “From my perspective and a rugby league perspective Sky has been a very good partner of ours for 30 years.

“The negotiation last year did take longer than we expected because of other things going on in the market, but we found ourselves in a position where we were able to negotiate a three-year deal.”

Sky Sports has been a consistent broadcast partner of the Super League since the competition’s formation in 1996, with Jones stating that the relationship is “not just a rights deal”. This is evidenced by the enhanced TV production slate across every single Super League game in 2024.

“[It] is a significant commitment both from a financial and resource perspective from Sky to enable that to happen,” said Jones of the fact there will now be TV cameras at every Super League fixture.

One thing the deal does do, Jones stresses, is keep the Super League on TV. Many argue that the deal takes the Super League for granted given it’s the only home it has ever had, however, an alternative situation where there is no pay-TV contract, given the dearth of options in the UK outside of Sky and TNT Sports, would be a far more catastrophic prospect.

“It provides the sport with some security knowing that that's in place,” he stated firmly. “However,” he adds, “I would say the partnership, although it's been 30 years already, there is another level that we could take it to which will hopefully see our partnership continue beyond the current three-year cycle.”

A third facet of the Super League’s media rights business, beyond pay-TV and OTT outlets, is free-to-air. At the time of the interview, Jones revealed that the league was working towards a free-to-air rights deal alongside its pay-TV partnership with Sky and its OTT service. That deal, a 15-game per season three-year contract with UK public-service broadcaster the BBC marks the first time the league has been on a state broadcaster.

“It ultimately means that rugby league and the Super League in particular will have the most opportunity to be seen by the biggest audience there has ever been,” Jones explains.


The developments regarding the SuperLeague+ platform would likely have not been possible without the presence of commercial agency IMG.

The global agency is only one year into its 12-year partnership with the Rugby Football League governing body and the Super League, but Jones stresses that the expertise the agency has brought has been vital to the competition.

“We needed some additional brain power in the sport,” said Jones, “in sports management, in broadcast, in digital, in commercial, to name but a few…. [IMG brings] expertise, they bring experience, knowledge, and influence as well.”

On the decision to partner with an outside organization rather than recruit internally, Jones adds: “Is [commercial business] something you do internally and go and recruit, or do you go the other option, which is to look at the market and see who the market leaders are? I think it's fair to say we've ended up with the market leader in sports management, IMG, who wanted to get on board with us and committed to a 12-year relationship with us.”

Much of the work done with IMG over the first 12 months of the partnership was “behind the scenes” in order to strengthen and secure the league’s digital offering, setting a foundation on which the league can build. Because that foundation is now built, Jones explains, IMG has the flexibility to now meet with the clubs of the Super League themselves to enhance the offerings on a local basis.

Besides the IMG tie-up, the last 12 months for the Super League also saw the renewal and expansion of the competition’s long-time affiliation with UK sports betting firm Betfred.

Betfred, which has been the Super League’s title sponsor since 2017, will continue to do so through 2026 under the deal, agreed in October 2023. The betting brand has been a “hugely significant” partner of the league throughout the deal, according to Jones, who admits that the talks for renewal were “not overly long”.

However, the strength of the deal and its consistent renewal are also indicative of RL Commercial’s strategy for targeting new commercial partnerships.

“We provide good visibility, strong visibility to a brand who is looking for a brand awareness piece,” Jones says, adding that the increased eyeballs on the sport from the aforementioned broadcast partnerships have given the Super League more bargaining power to garner sponsorship revenue.

The league has worked with IMG to improve the clarity of its digital offerings, fan engagement, the purpose of its digital platforms, and what it means to potential partners. “Combined with a broadening landscape in broadcast and a bigger digit pool of digital followers and engagement, we think that's quite a strong narrative for commercial partners to be interested in the sport.”

Future ambitions

In the UK, rugby league has a strong cultural link to the north of England specifically, and it is a cultural base that the league has maintained throughout its history but that is also indicative of its inability to hit the mainstream in the country in the way the rugby union code of the sport has.

The only other prominent rugby league competition in the world is Australia’s NRL, which is arguably the biggest sports league in the country. Besides the aforementioned annual World Club Championship, rotated between England and Australia, neither league tends to leave its domestic shores often. However, on March 3, the NRL staged its season-opening fixture doubleheader in Las Vegas, Nevada to a crowd of around 40,000.

Asked if the Super League had considered any similar internationalization plans, Jones stated that the prospect of global growth is aspirational for RL Commercial in the long run.

“What [the NRL is] doing in Las Vegas is bold, and it's brave, and I sincerely hope it's successful because they have clearly identified America as an opportunity, both from a commercial financial perspective," he said.

“It'll be amazing to see in the first instance, but it'll be also interesting to see the crowd attendance and the broadcaster visibility that they get over in America. And that's something that we have to aspire to, and it's aspirational for us to be a part of that. And potentially one day do our equivalent of what they're doing in Las Vegas.”

Jones confirms that the possibility of hosting the World Club Challenge in Vegas as a part of the NRL opening weekend was floated, however, it was ultimately too late to be workable. He does, however, leave the door open for future plans in the country, saying “I wouldn't say that's necessarily off the table going forward.”

Of course, to grow into the US the league will still need a strong UK base, the growth of which is chief among RL Commercial’s aims for the coming broadcast period.

“We need to see our audiences increasing. Certainly, that’s a message that came loud and clear from [Sky Sports]. It's about protecting our current audience on that platform, but it's also about growing so how do we go away and work with Sky to generate more viewers for our broadcaster?”

The league’s forward-looking plans also expand to a search for more partners for the sport to help take it forward commercially, with Jones stating: “We have a small, committed, partner family, and we generate good revenue out of those partnerships, but we are always looking to [add to] all of that.”

Although he admits that there is a lot of work to be done to get the league where it and IMG want to be, stating: “There's a lot of optimism in the game at the moment. We think we have a very strong narrative for a sport and it's not just about the men's Super League. It's men's, women's, and wheelchair Super League and that’s fairly unique in this country that we can say that. [Ultimately] we're on the right trajectory.”