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Optus ‘begins production talks’ ahead of Rugby Australia bid deadline

Dane Haylett-Petty scores a try against Manu Samoa in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Telecoms operator Optus is considered the leading candidate to acquire pay-television rights in Rugby Australia’s ongoing invitation to tender process, and has begun to seek out production companies, reports Australia’s Daily Telegraph.

The national governing body issued its media-rights tender in the middle of last month, but it is reported that a deadline of March 11 for contract questions to be submitted has been pushed back by a week. Broadcasters are expected to table their bids for rights from 2021 to 2025 the day after the contract question deadline passes.

It is reported that incumbent rights-holder Foxtel, the pay-television operator, has not signed Rugby Australia’s non-disclosure agreements, raising serious doubts over whether it will submit an offer.

Foxtel was unable to negotiate an agreement with Rugby Australia during an exclusive negotiation period. It is reported to have lodged a bid of A$40m (€23.2m/$26m) per year during that process.

Optus is reported to have initiated talks with production companies that would be required to film matches and package the various coverage given they do not have the in-house capacity to do so. Production costs have been estimated at A$10m per year and are likely to be worked into any rights proposal submitted by Optus.

Rugby Australia’s current five-year rights agreement with Foxtel runs from 2016 to 2020 and is worth a total of A$285m (or A$57m per year).

Pay-television’s Fox Sports broadcast the inaugural Super 12 season in 1996 and has backed Australian rugby ever since. Raelene Castle, the Rugby Australia chief executive, said recently that she expects Foxtel to participate in the invitation to tender process.

However, the absence of Foxtel from the bidding would leave Rugby Australia susceptible to a ‘lowball’ offer being submitted by Optus. Pay-television broadcaster beIN Sports, subscription streaming platform DAZN (which will soon launch its global boxing service in Australia), and online retail giant Amazon will be viewed as outside candidates for the rights.

The existing Foxtel agreement covers the Rugby Australia properties and tournaments operated by Sanzaar, rugby union’s governing body in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina. Foxtel 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.

Ten is expected to be interested in the free-to-air rights going forwards.

In a first for the national federation, Rugby Australia has gone to market with an offering that includes content and competitions from every level of the sport in the country.