By Tariq Saleh

Rugby League World Cup 2021, the organising committee of the sport’s flagship tournament in England this year, has today awarded its host broadcasting contract to UK-based production firm Whisper.

The company was selected almost a year after the organisers issued an invitation to tender for host broadcast services.

The deadline for bids was 13 August, 2020, while the official period of work in the contract was initially 1 November, 2020 to 31 December, 2021.

The agreement includes full delivery of broadcast production, distribution and rights holding broadcasters’ facilities and service requirements for 45 matches across the men’s, women’s and wheelchair World Cups, which will take place simultaneously for the first time in the tournament’s 67-year history from 23 October to 27 November.      

Over the five weeks of the tournament, RLWC2021 has tasked Whisper with capturing over 4,500 hours of live sporting action and delivering a “world-class” broadcast and content experience to over 150 million people in over 100 international territories.

In addition, Whisper will support RLWC2021 to “realise its ambitious and inclusive digital vision” and “support the tournament in reaching a more diverse audience than ever before and attract interest in the sport".

All 61 matches across the three tournaments will be broadcast and streamed live, with the BBC, the public-service broadcaster which holds rights to show every game in the UK, to produce the other 16 matches.

Whisper has an existing relationship with the BBC, having signed a multi-year contract in 2020 to deliver its cricket highlights, and previously produced the broadcaster’s coverage of the Women’s Six Nations tournament and soccer’s Women’s Super League.

With “significant global reach” through international broadcast agreements, digital channels and social output, RLWC2021 expects the tournament to be the most viewed in the competition’s history.

Whisper has vowed to ensure the World Cup is “innovative and has the highest production values and visual treatment".

Jonathan Neill, RLWC2021 commercial director, said:Whisper demonstrated a clear commitment and ability to interpret and apply the strategy of Rugby League World Cup 2021 to broadcast production.

“Both organisations share the vision to deliver the biggest and best Rugby League World Cup ever, and via utilising technology and Whisper’s storytelling we will provide engaging content to both existing and new audiences.

“Whisper’s desire to be bold and brave and embrace the inclusive values of the tournament shone through in the tender, alongside an appreciation of the commercial integration opportunities which will help us deliver a profitable tournament.”

The deal with RLWC2021 represents another significant win for Whisper after it was appointed by World Rugby, the governing body for rugby union, in February as its key digital video and audio production producer for 2021 in an effort to drive growth and reach new audiences globally.

Whisper also previously produced the 2019 Rugby World Cup for S4C, the Welsh-language commercial television network and co-produced the Lionesses Daily show for English soccer's Football Association, which gained 9.25 million views during the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup.  

The London-based production company works with several broadcasters in the UK and globally manages the host broadcast for the Women’s FA Cup and Lioness internationals, New Zealand Cricket and Cricket West Indies, as well as producing the Paralympics and Formula 1 (for Channel 4), W Series and international cricket.   

Mark Cole, Whisper managing director, added: “We’re delighted to have been awarded the host broadcast contract and look forward to working closely with RLWC2021 and the BBC to deliver this. Rugby League World Cup 2021’s mission is to ‘create inspirational moments that engage, excite and leave a long-lasting legacy’ and we will be using our host broadcast expertise, storytelling skills and visual creativity to deliver this.

“We want to take the coverage of the men’s, women’s and wheelchair World Cups into bold new territory, which will resonate with core fans as well as main eventers and make it the most viewed Rugby League World Cup ever.”

Despite the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, RLWC2021 has made several major broadcasting announcements over the past 12 months.

The most notable agreement came last July when the organising committee announced a “historic” partnership with the International Rugby League, the sport’s governing body, in which the pair are collaborating on the sale of international broadcast rights, and the production of matches at this year’s tournament. 

For the previous two World Cups, in 2013 and 2017, the IRL had worked with international sports agency IMG, which was responsible for the distribution of worldwide media rights and the appointment of host broadcasters for the tournament. 

Australia’s Seven Network was the worldwide host broadcaster for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

Earlier this year, RLWC2021 awarded a contract to RDA, the UK-based firm that has established itself as one of the leading sports media rights agencies in both codes of rugby, to help sell international media rights to the World Cup.

Having finally secured a host broadcaster, the organisers’ attention will now turn to landing broadcast partners in priority markets such as Australia and New Zealand.

RLWC2021 issued an invitation to tender in Australia in mid-March but is yet to announce an agreement despite bids being due by the end of that month.

This year’s tournament will feature 32 nations and be staged across 21 venues.