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Rugby Australia calls on ex-Foxtel execs ahead of rights tender

Australia players look on after the Rugby World Cup 2019 Quarter Final match against England (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images,)

Rugby Australia has engaged the Media Rights Value organisation to help with negotiations for its next domestic rights contract amid reports that pay-television broadcaster Foxtel may end its long-running association with the governing body.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle has called on the company, whose director is former Foxtel chief executive Peter Tonagh, to aid its negotiations ahead of the expected tender launch later this month.

Media Rights Value is led by Chris Harvey, Foxtel’s former head of strategy, while the broadcaster’s former chief financial officer Gavin Dumsday also serves as a director of the company, which has helped Rugby Australia with market research.

RA confirmed in November that it was in “general discussions with the broader market”, including Foxtel, amid uncertainty over its next deal.

Foxtel has held Rugby Australia rights for two decades and had an exclusive negotiation period with RA over the rights for 2021 to 2025. This expired without a deal being agreed for the Super Rugby competition, the National Rugby Championships and Australia Test matches.

According to the Herald, Rugby Australia is seeking between A$30m (€19m/$21m) and A$40m for the rights. Foxtel sources have previously told the newspaper that they are only willing to offer A$20m.

Foxtel has also baulked at RA demands for greater free-to-air coverage in the new cycle. In the current deal, it sublicenses only one delayed Super Rugby match per week to free-to-air channel Ten.

Telco Optus is said to be among the companies interested in acquiring Rugby Australia rights. The Herald, citing sources close to the matter, also reported that Ten is in the mix.

In December 2015, Fox Sports retained rights in Australia to Test matches and tournaments operated by Sanzaar, rugby union’s governing body in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

Under the deal, RA receives a total of A$285m over five years, from 2016 to 2020 – a 148-per-cent increase on the previous rights cycle, from 2011 to 2015.