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Rugby Walks Away From Foxtel, Optus Sports Reportedly Sole Bidder

It’s a moment of truth for Rugby Australia and the future of rugby union in Australia after the embattled code walked away from Foxtel’s offer to match its current deal.

Tabloid media belonging to Foxtel’s parent company, News Corp, went on the offensive in yesterday morning’s reporting of the deal using dramatic headlines that some in the industry criticised as a ‘nasty negotiation tactic.’

But it appeared to have failed, as Rugby Australia rejected their offer and is instead setting its sights on Optus, which is seen as an alternative bidder whose increasing its sporting coverage.

Rugby Australia Chief Executive Raelene Castle speaks to the media during a press conference at Rugby AU headquarters in Sydney, Thursday, December 5, 2019. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

It’s a significant departure for the sporting code, which has recently suffered through long-term low ratings and a more recent homophobic row from now-ousted Israel Folau, as the code has been signed with Murdoch’s News Corp since 1995.

During the World Cup in South Africa in that year, News Corp signed a ‘landmark’ US $550 million ($816 million) 10-year rights deal with the code to ensure the sports future in the professional era.

From that deal, News Corp masthead The Australian, reports that two competitions were born: ‘Super Rugby and Tri Nations.’

(AAP Image/Foxtel)

Commentators at the time were in disbelief over the amount of money that Murdoch threw at the code, but it successfully bolstered its presence in Australia and indeed around the world.

Fast forward 25 years and the code’s future is now shrouded in doubt.

Rugby in Australia is now down on almost every metric – it’s quickly losing market share in terms of viewership and participation and the Wallabies are losing both at home and across the world.

In 2019, Super Rugby’s ratings were down 20 per cent and in the first-round matches of 2020, that trend is being repeated with a 20 per cent loss on last year.

Controversial former Wallabies player Israel Folau. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

Rugby Australia’s current five-year rights deal is worth around $57 million a year, with Foxtel reportedly playing the majority of this sum.

But now, with Optus Sports being understood to be the sole bidder, it is unknown how much they are offering for the broadcast rights.

Just this week, Optus Sports expanded its sporting coverage with the signage of Asian football rights for 2020.

Optus Sports has declined to provide a comment on this story after a spokesperson told ChannelNews they are unable to discuss commercial agreements.

(AAP Image/Optus) 

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