Sydney, Feb 6 : The sport of rugby union in Australia appears to be fighting for its future, with TV broadcast partner Fox Sports set to walk away from the code after a 25-year partnership. With the current television deal inked in 2015 worth 193 million US dollars, News Corp - the majority owner of Fox Sports - confirmed on Wednesday that the broadcaster had stepped back from negotiations following months of talks and would not be renewing the contract which expires at the end of this year.
Plagued by dwindling crowds, participation rates and a lack viewership due to stiff competition from other sports, in 2018 the average TV audience for Super Rugby matches was just 71,000, far lower than Australian Football League games at 167,000 and the National Rugby League at 164,000. Now searching for a new broadcast partner, local media have reported that Rugby Australia are set to hold talks with Australian telecommunications giant Optus, who currently hold the streaming rights to the English Premier League.
Speaking with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a spokesperson for Rugby Australia said an ambitious TV rights package should be ready for market in about one month. "Our strategy is to provide an integrated 'whole of rugby' presentation to our fans and, importantly, we are confident that there is real interest from the market in this content," the spokesperson said.
While the popularity of the sport may be in disarray, International Test matches featuring the Wallabies are still part of the Federal Government's anti-siphoning charter which requires a free-to-air station to broadcast certain high-profile sports in the national interest. "We have a good, long-term partnership with Rugby Australia and are looking forward to the formal broadcast rights process starting," said a spokesperson for current broadcaster Network 10. (Xinhua)