The deal struck between the A-League and SBS must have now surely convinced ARU that free-to-air coverage for Super Rugby is a necessity. Without this increased exposure, rugby has been left to wither on the Fox Sports vine.
At the moment, rugby is now the only football code whose domestic competition is not broadcast to the masses via a free-to-air channel.
The other codes have a home.
SBS and football makes sense. Channel Nine has its NRL and the summer of cricket. Channel Seven, Aussie Rules and Bruce McAvaney swooning over Cyril Rioli are synonymous with a cold and wet Friday night spent on the couch with beer and pizza.
Rugby has, well…nothing.
It is a situation that is strangling the game from grassroots up.
This is due to the low penetration of subscription TV. An ASTRA (Subscription Television Australia) release in December 2012 reported that a third of Australians had access to pay TV.
Of those, they spent only 16 percent of the time watching sport. It’s not exactly a broad target market to make your product exclusively available to.
It means kids are losing interest because they can’t see the game.
I mentioned in a previous post I coach junior rugby at St. Patrick’s College in Ballarat. In the last two years, both of my teams had only two boys that had seen a game on TV. And this year, one had just come over from New Zealand.
It is also hurting the Wallabies. Channel Ten’s coverage of the British Lions tour got some pretty standard views, but if not for the highly recognisable Israel Folau, I would argue the numbers would have been a lot worse, particularly in the non–rugby states.
When the Wallabies are on free-to-air, they are not easily recognisable to the casual sports fans. There is just nothing all year, then suddenly bang! Nick Cummins.
It actually makes the Wallabies on FTA less relevant to the casual fans that rugby, as a code, needs to attract.
The other side of what is happening to heaven’s game is that it is losing its benefit to Fox Sports.
The May 30 Australian Financial Review reported that Fox Sports had reported a 2% dip in earnings, as it payed big money to rights for AFL, NRL and the A-League.
As interest in rugby dwindles, so does its value to broadcasters and sponsors. Fox might push before Super Rugby jumps.
So what can be done? The latest broadcast deal expires in 2015, and the ARU need to negotiate to get some Super Rugby presence on free-to-air.
It needs to be live. There are surely enough extra stations around that at least one game a week can be guaranteed to be live somewhere.
There also needs to be more work done around this to build up the profile of the game. People need to be able to identify the players, and their character, and what they feel about the players.
It needs to be on the news, and on radio talk shows.
The road back to the mainstream is a long one. Action needs to be taken know, otherwise rugby could very quickly end up becoming the NBL of this decade.