Sky 'fends off BT Sport to renew Super League rights on lower terms'
Sky, the UK pay-TV broadcaster, is set to retain rights to the Super League, English rugby league's top tier, on reduced terms after beating off competition from rival BT Sport, it has been reported.
A new three-year deal running from the 2022 to 2024 seasons is close to being finalised and is expected to be signed off at a Super League board meeting next month, according to the UK’s Daily Mail.
It would represent the first major broadcast rights deal signed in the UK during the Covid-19 period.
Sky’s present five-year deal for the Super League was due to expire in 2021. Under that contract, Sky Sports shows more than 80 live matches per season.
The new agreement with the Rugby Football League, the sport’s national governing body, is believed to be worth less than the £40 million ($53.3 million) -per-year Sky currently pays.
The drop in value comes after Super League clubs agreed to a reduction of around £280,000 in funding next year in a revised deal agreed between the RFL and Sky.
Sky is believed to have beaten off late competition from BT Sport, which was seeking to add the Super League to its rugby portfolio that includes English rugby union’s top-tier Premiership.
The RFL launched the Super League tender in September, along with several of its competitions including the Challenge Cup, the second- and third-tier Championship and League 1, and international fixtures.
The pay-TV giant shows the Challenge Cup and Championship while the BBC, the UK's public-service broadcaster, also holds rights to the Challenge Cup to 2021, with its inventory including two games from the sixth round and quarter-finals, both semi-finals and the final.
Despite the reduced terms, the new agreement with Sky will provide a significant financial boost to the league ahead of its showpiece Grand Final this weekend with Sky’s rights fee to the league regarded as the lifeblood of the domestic sport.
The domestic TV deal is the Super League’s biggest source of income, with three-quarters of the money going to top-tier clubs and the remaining funds split between the RFL and Championship sides.
The RFL struggled to cope financially with the impact of Covid-19, which forced the 2020 season to be suspended from mid-March until August. The competition resumed in a revised format and had to cancel this year’s Magic Weekend at St James’ Park in Newcastle.
In May, the RFL received a £16 million cash injection from the government to help the sport cope with the financial fallout and resume the Super League season.
Rugby league is set to get a further £12 million as part of the recently announced £300 million winter survival package from the government.
Next year will be a significant one for the sport in the UK as England is due to host the Rugby League World Cup comprising tournaments for men, women and wheelchair teams.