Sky extends long-running Super League deal to 2023
Sky, the UK pay-TV broadcaster, has today renewed its rights deal for the Super League, English rugby league's top tier, for two more seasons.
The extension with the Rugby Football League, which covers the 2022 and 2023 campaigns, will take the relationship between the two parties to 28 years.
Sky’s present five-year deal for the Super League expires at the end of the 2021 season.
Under that contract, Sky Sports shows more than 80 live matches per year, including the Challenge Cup and second-tier Championship, with the BBC, the UK's public-service broadcaster, also showing prominent Challenge Cup matches, among them the final.
It is believed that Sky will pay around £25 million ($35 million) per season for the new contract, a significant reduction from the £40 million it is paying at present.
However, the new deal does not include rights to the Championship, which have now been freed up, allowing the RFL to negotiate with alternative broadcasters for the rights to that competition.
The drop in value also comes after Super League clubs agreed to a reduction of around £280,000 in funding this year in a revised deal agreed between the RFL and Sky in 2020.
Sky is understood to have beaten off competition from rival BT Sport, which was seeking to add the Super League to a portfolio that includes English rugby union’s top-tier Premiership Rugby.
Under the renewal, Sky Sports will broadcast 66 live games exclusively per season, including the Magic Weekend, play-offs and the grand final, plus the World Club Challenge,
In addition, the broadcaster will have the first pick of games in each of the regular season rounds as well as the play-off weeks.
The pay-TV giant said it will also work with the Super League “to reach new audiences” by making some of this season's fixtures available via its free-to-air platforms.
The Super League and Sky were initially discussing a long-term deal, but eventually agreed on a shorter contract due to the changing landscape of the broadcast market as well as the ongoing effects of Covid-19 on finances.
Despite the reduced terms, the new agreement with Sky will provide a significant financial boost to the league as the broadcaster’s rights fee is regarded as the lifeblood of rugby league in England.
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 the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the 2020 season to be suspended from mid-March until August. The competition resumed in a revised format but had to cancel last year’s Magic Weekend at St James’ Park in Newcastle.
Last year, 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, as well as a further £12 million as part of a £300 million winter survival package from the UK authorities.
The RFL launched the Super League tender last September, also offering other competitions including the Challenge Cup, the second- and third-tier Championship and League 1, and international fixtures.
Ken Davy, Super League executive chairman, said: "Sky has been with us from the start of the competition, back in 1996, and are now an integral part of the Betfred Super League family. Together our partnership has seen the Super League achieve record viewing figures in recent years.
"We've worked closely throughout the current pandemic and every step of the way Sky has been immensely supportive. Super League looks forward to working with Sky Sports on the exciting free-to-air opportunity, growing our audience and allowing more fans than ever before to see our great game."
Sky has extended its deal in what will be a significant year for rugby league as England is due to host the Rugby League World Cup comprising tournaments for men, women and wheelchair teams, in October and November.
Meanwhile, Australia’s National Rugby League is in talks with the clubs over potential format changes.
It was announced today that the NRL is considering a conference system in a bid to expand the competition.
League officials have discussed the plans with almost half the 16 clubs, and one proposal is for a Sydney conference and a non-Sydney conference.
In addition, the NRL plans to become an 18-team competition, with the introduction of a second Brisbane team in 2023 and New Zealand or Perth floated as the home of another team.
Assuming the expansion goes to plan, NRL officials have told clubs it would consider two nine-team conferences, one with Sydney teams and one with non-Sydney teams.