Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle expects pay-television operator Foxtel to participate in its forthcoming invitation to tender process amid reports that the broadcaster is ready to end its longstanding coverage.
Earlier this week, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported that Foxtel, commercial broadcasters Nine, Seven and Ten, digital platforms such as Amazon and telecoms operators Optus will be asked to sign non-disclosure agreements this week, ahead of Rugby Australia’s first open tender in 25 years.
There has been growing uncertainty over Foxtel’s status as the long-term home of Australian rugby, and last week it was reported that Fox Sports was willing to end its coverage as Rugby Australia’s rights from 2021 onwards come to market.
However, Castle said today: “We went through a negotiating process with them through their exclusive negotiating period. Unfortunately we couldn’t get to a place we were both comfortable with. So now we’re in tender and we would expect that as a market process they would step into that process.
“We’ve put together what we believe is the strongest package of rights and aligned package of rights that we’ve ever been able to do with a whole of rugby solution.
“That’s attracted some real interest from the market and we’re looking to have tender documents out by the end of the week. That will be a month-long process to allow those bidders to come forward and make sure they have time to consider the offering we have go and step forward with their best offers.”
Fox Sports broadcast the inaugural Super 12 season in 1996 and has backed Australian rugby ever since but News Corp-owned newspaper The Australian recently reported that talks had “come to a halt”.
Rights for Super Rugby, Australia tests and club matches will all be available in the tender process. Foxtel is reported to have not yet formally declared that it will not take part.
Rugby Australia’s current five-year rights agreement with Foxtel runs from 2016 to 2020 and is worth a total of A$285m (€176m/$192m). It covers the Rugby Australia properties and tournaments operated by Sanzaar, rugby union’s governing body in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.
Rugby Australia is currently the only Sanzaar body not to have secured its broadcast rights through 2025.