After 25 years as the home of televised rugby in Australia, Fox Sports has been beaten to the party by Nine entertainment.
The Nine television network and its streaming platform, Stan, will fill the coffers at Rugby Australia to the tune of $100m over the next three years.
While to some the move may seem strange, on closer inspection it’s a forward thinking move the sport needs. For the casual observer, having rugby union on a free-to-air network will be the opportunity they will have to look at something other than sporadic Wallaby Tests.
Stan has positioned itself nicely behind Netflix as Australia’s paid streaming service of choice. In the UK Amazon has used its Prime Video service to show a handful of Premier League games while Facebook has done the same in the US with the NFL.
No doubt these are plays to see the attraction of internet delivered sporting content in large markets where the price for rights goes up ever cycle. The tech giants have the reach as well as the deep pockets to outbid any terrestrial and pay operation to maintain their market dominance.
This in turn leads to a larger ad revenue base. This move by Nine and Stan is an ideal play at a time when the Premier League is at home on the Optus Sports platform.
With 825,000 active subscribers enjoying their sport of choice, the payoff for another steaming network to enter the field was an attractive alternative to Foxtel while dedicating its resources on one niche sport.
In an environment where Foxtel is bleeding customers and the subscriber base is agitated at the decreasing value for money offering, rugby has turned its back on its broadcast partner of a quarter of a century to try and establish a new way of content delivery.
Now, rusted-on supporters and the casual observers will tune in on Nine.
The home of NRL on free-to-air will show one live Super Rugby game on a Saturday night. The rest will be behind the paywall on Stan.
Is this as bad as it sounds and will you need to sign up to Stan to watch Australia’s finest go round?
We have four Super Rugby teams. Five if the resurrected Western Force are included. If they are, then one team gets a bye and there are two games to watch.
One of those will be free to watch. Test matches and Super Rugby finals will be live on Nine. For most, that is enough and their hard earned can stay squirrelled away.
A new platform called Stan Sport will be an add on and you know what comes next. To recoup the $30m they will stump up each year will have to be recouped through increased subscribers and those who will pay for what they had now with a sport offering. Nine promises more sport on Stan. At first look, an NRL archive seems an obvious play.
One could be forgiven for being a little sceptical as to the motives behind Nine looking to the NRL for a Covid-related price reduction this season. The ratings have been a boon for both Nine and Foxtel in a season where we were starving for the in-person experience and TV was the fallback for most who could not or would not attend.
It freed up a nice wad of cash that has now been delivered to the leather patch brigade.
The next three years will be worth following off the field as well as on to see where this leads. Optus Sport now own soccer and the chances of that returning to Fox are slim.
The larger sports will watch with interest to see where the orange can be squeezed even more.