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Fox Sports ‘ready to walk away’ from Rugby Australia rights

Fox Sports, the Australian pay-television broadcaster, is ready to end its longstanding coverage of Australian rugby union as Rugby Australia’s rights from 2021 onwards come to market, it has been claimed.

The News Corp-owned Australian newspaper has reported that talks between Fox Sports and Rugby Australia have “come to a halt”.

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle and Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany have not held in-person talks about the rights for weeks, it is claimed, although emails have been exchanged.

Fox Sports broadcast the inaugural Super 12 season in 1996 and has backed Australian rugby ever since.

Rugby Australia’s current five-year rights agreement runs from 2016 to 2020 and is worth a total of A$285m (€175m/$192.4m). It covers the Rugby Australia properties and tournaments operated by Sanzaar, rugby union’s governing body in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

Any exit of Fox Sports from the bidding race would leave telecoms operator Optus and Ten as the most likely rights bidders.

Rugby Australia told The Australian: “Rugby Australia’s preparations for the next five-year rights period have led to a key focus on creating alignment across the rugby competitions in Australia.

“Our strategy is to provide an integrated whole of rugby presentation to our fans and, importantly, we are confident that there is real interest from the market in this content. We are preparing to take the package to market early this month.”

Foxtel has previously warned of its moves to reduce investments in “non-marquee sporting content”.

Reacting to the claims that it will walk away from the rugby rights, Peter Campbell, the head of Fox Sports, said: “Fox Sports will continue to be the home of rugby union with all Super Rugby, the Rugby Championship and Wallabies games in 2020. The rugby rights from 2021 onwards are a matter for Rugby Australia.”

Rugby Australia recently engaged the Media Rights Value organisation, whose director is former Foxtel chief executive Peter Tonagh, to help with negotiations for its next domestic rights contract.

It was recently reported that Fox Sports had baulked at Rugby Australia demands for greater free-to-air coverage in the new cycle. In the current deal, it sublicenses one delayed Super Rugby match per week to Ten, while Ten simulcasts all of Australia’s domestic tests, the Bledisloe Cup and all Australia matches in The Rugby Championship.