The Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa, the domestic rugby union competitions in Australia and New Zealand, respectively, look set to be blacked out in the UK this year.
Sanzaar, the organiser of top southern hemisphere rugby union competitions, said no media rights agreement could be reached in time for the start of the Super Rugby AU today, and there is little confidence that picture will change ahead of the Super Rugby Aotearoa getting under way on 26 February.
The two competitions, which both conclude on 8 May, replace the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby competition, which was cancelled last year and is not returning this year as a result of coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
In a statement, tournament organisers have ruled out the possibility of a channel or streaming service securing the UK rights in time for the start of the two tournaments.
A Sanzaar spokesperson said: “The ongoing effects of Covid-19 have had a drastic impact on the sporting landscape not just on tournament formats and match operations but in the commercial landscape as well.
“Sporting federations ability to negotiate new commercial deals in areas such as sponsorship and television broadcasting has been severely compromised in the market due to reduced budgets, a decrease in business confidence, less available product and the ongoing uncertainty created by the pandemic.
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“At present, we have been unable to get agreement from broadcasters in Europe and we have no over-the-top platform in place as these costs are very expensive.
“Hopefully, we can rectify this in the near future.”
Sanzaar’s previous UK television partner, pay-television broadcaster Sky, operated a shared service for the original Super Rugby competition with Foxtel but the Australian pay-television operator has since lost its rights to the competition to commercial broadcaster Nine Network and its newly-launched streaming service Stan in a three-year deal worth A$100 million ($73 million).
No sharing agreement has been reached with Stan, which will show all matches live in Australia, with a game each round simulcast live free-to-air on Nine’s linear channel 9Gem.
Sky Sports' rugby programme has been cut down recently, with only the Lions tour, Women’s Six Nations and out-of-window Tests, including England versus Barbarians, being covered.
The rest of UK’s rugby broadcast is spread across public-service broadcaster the BBC, commercial broadcasters ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 and pay-television broadcaster BT Sport.
Meanwhile, Nine Network has secured exclusive Australian rights for the Japan Top League rugby union competition for the 2021 season.
Under the deal, Nine’s streaming platform Stan will show selected matches from the 2021 season live and on-demand ad-free.
The streaming service launched earlier this month, creating competition in Australia’s sports streaming sector, which includes Foxtel’s Kayo Sports and telco operator Optus. It costs A$10 per month extra on top of a subscription to the wider Stan streaming service, which starts at A$10 per month.
The competition adds to Stan’s significant rugby portfolio which also includes the two Super Rugby competitions, Super Rugby trans-Tasman, The Rugby Championship, the Bledisloe Cup, the Shute Shield, the Hospital Challenge Cup, the Currie Cup, New Zealand’s National Provincial Championship, Super W, Wallabies and Wallaroos Test matches, and non-Australian Sanzaar union home Tests.
Elsewhere, Rugby Australia, the national governing body for the sport, has announced Australian home furniture retailer Harvey Norman has signed on as naming rights partner for the 2021 Super Ruby AU season, as well as the inaugural Trans-Tasman Super Rugby tournament in May.
The 2021 Super Rugby AU season will now be named the Harvey Norman Super Rugby AU competition.
Andy Marinos, Rugby Australia chief executive, formerly head of Sanzaar, said: “This partnership is yet another clear sign of the direction of Australian Rugby and the exciting future ahead for the game in this country. We look forward to working together to bring Australian sport fans a thrilling Harvey Norman Super Rugby AU season.”
Katie Page, Harvey Norman chief executive, added: “With the strength of both brands working together, the opportunities and impact will be huge.
“Now is such an exciting time for Super Rugby AU after the challenges of the pandemic in 2020. Super Rugby can charge back this year with rugby fans watching live wherever possible and a whole new broader audience and fan base brought together by Nine Entertainment Group’s Nine Gem and Stan Sport.”