Telecommunications heavyweight Optus have put all broadcast negotiations with Rugby Australia on hold for the next 12 months.
It was hoped that talks would resume after six months of the original dialog being halted due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The virus outbreak has taken its toll on Optus, as it has with all businesses, to the point that the Singapore-based telco is currently now not in a financial position to commit a contact to broadcast Test matches, Super Rugby and a revamped local rugby competition.
This coupled with an uncertain future for the Super Rugby format, makes the decision understandable.
Rugby is in a dire position with no CEO, new board members, no money in the bank and no broadcast deal beyond this year.
Foxtel is looked at as a possible lifeline to extend their current deal by a further 12 months to give Optus time to re-evaluate the value rugby may bring to its business. This is dependent on Foxtel’s willingness to be a helping hand to rugby and if Foxtel actually has the money to provide rugby with the revenue they desperately need.
Considering the way Rugby Australia spurned a generous offer from Foxtel to extends its 25-year commitment to the sport, this option seems ambitious at best.
It would seem logical that free-to-air network Channel Ten will continue to show the game as they are keen to have the content on their platform. However, they also feel like they have been unfairly treated by the governing body as they have been left out of the loop in regards to when the game will re-commence.
A move to Optus was the financial lifeline that Rugby Australia needed after it decided to go to market and not re-sign with long term partner Foxtel.
Currently Optus Sport is an over the top (OTT) platform that Optus charges $15 per month for and is the self-proclaimed “Home of Football in Australia”. While that football may be soccer, the quality it brings to the viewer cannot be denied.
It seems to have fixed it connectivity issues that plagued it World Cup coverage and pre-COVID 19 had 800,000 paying monthly subscribers. While the Premier League coverage it broadcasts in Australia is the international feed the EPL transmits to the world, Rugby Australia would have to factor production costs into a contract they may sign with Optus.
For the game to be an attractive long term proposition to any new broadcast partner, the game needs to get its front office in order with a new CEO that will drive the game forward.
The financial position the game currently finds itself in will need a generous deal from its broadcasters to grow the game and establish a future fund to ward off any potentially damaging situation it may find itself in the future.