IMG, the international sports and entertainment company, has secured television production rights to the next two seasons of English rugby league’s top-tier Super League, through a deal with free-to-air (FTA) broadcaster and rightsholder Channel 4 (C4).
C4, which holds domestic rights to Super League for the 2022 and 2023 campaigns in a deal struck in November last year and beginning on February 12, has awarded IMG the rights following a tender process described by the network's head of sport Pete Andrews as “very competitive.”
IMG is coming on board to produce what will be the first Super League fixtures shown FTA in the competition’s 26-year history – starting on February 12 as the Leeds Rhinos take on the Warrington Wolves.
The company will be producing live coverage on-site from the grounds and is also opening a new office in the northern English city of Leeds where C4 is based, to work specifically on this programming.
C4 will cover 10 games per year across the next two seasons of the 12-team league, as well as highlights of the next two Grand Finals.
Andrews said: “It was a very competitive tender process but IMG showed a vision that really stood out.
“And we were absolutely delighted when they revealed their plans to open a Leeds base. This chimes with everything Channel 4’s ambition – to help boost the production industry in the UK’s nations and regions.”
Barney Francis, executive vice-president and head of global production at IMG (who was appointed in October last year), added: “This is a great opportunity for us and we are delighted to be working with Channel 4 on live coverage of Super League, one of the action-packed sports of the summer.
“We are excited to be opening a new base in Leeds – right in the heartland of the rugby league world – which will enable us to tap into the production talent in the area. Going forward, we can also see a number of long-term strategic advantages for IMG to have a base in the region.”
Sky, the heavyweight UK pay-TV broadcaster, provides exclusive live coverage of 66 Super League matches each season, including all playoff games and the Grand Final.
The broadcaster renewed its rights deal for the Super League until the end of 2023 back in April, taking its relationship with the Rugby Football League to 28 years.
However, Sky is paying around £25 million ($33.6 million) per season for the new contract, a significant reduction from the £40 million ($54.2 million) it was paying in the previous deal.
The first match of the 2022 Super League will take place on February 10, as St Helens come up against the Catalan Dragons.
Francis was brought in by IMG as the eventual replacement for Graham Fry, the current chair of IMG’s production business who is set to retire at the end of this year.
He will oversee the agency’s overall content production sector, with a transition period – running through until Fry’s departure – currently taking place.