SKY and SANZAR extend broadcast rights deal
April 8, 2010
Australia's Joe Roff is tackled by the Lions' Brian O'Driscoll and Neil Back, Australia v British & Irish Lions, 3rd Test, Stadium Australia, Sydney, Austraila, July 14, 2001
The British & Irish Lions' return to Australia in 2013 will be broadcast on SKY Television in New Zealand © Getty Images

SANZAR and SKY Television have agreed a new deal that will see the broadcaster continue to air the Tri-Nations and Super Rugby competitions in New Zealand for five years from 2011 to 2015.

The New Zealand Rugby Union confirmed today that a new agreement with the satellite broadcaster has been struck as part of the ongoing renewal of SANZAR's broadcasting arrangements. Subsequent deals are expected to be signed with Australia's Foxtel, like SKY TV a News Corporation controlled company, and South Africa's Super Sport - extending a relationship dating back to 1995. The new deal is worth a reported US$400 million (NZ$560 million) to the southern hemisphere's leading unions - an increase of about 20 per cent on the previous contract.

NZRU CEO Steve Tew said, "The announcement that the SANZAR Unions have signed agreements with SKY Television in New Zealand is a very positive step and we are delighted to be extending our long-standing partnership with SKY."

The deal covers the new Super 15 competition that begin in February next year, the June Test matches between the All Blacks and northern hemisphere teams, the Tri-Nations, all inbound tours to New Zealand, Australia and South Africa including the British & Irish Lions' tour to Australia in 2013 and the top South African and New Zealand domestic competitions. SKY chief executive John Fellet told NZPA that SKY would be paying more under the new agreement than under the present deal.

The new agreement was better for Sky, with the Super 15 to have more local derbies under a new structure as the New Zealand teams played each other more often, he said. "We're always a lot better off Auckland versus Wellington or Christchurch, than Auckland versus Jo'burg ..."

For example, while viewers in Wellington might not watch Auckland play the Lions, when Auckland played Wellington Sky was getting two bites at the New Zealand market and so its ratings were higher. "Effectively, I'm selling one house and moving into a bigger house, so I'm prepared to pay more money for that house," he said.

As well as incorporating a 15th side from 2011, the Super Rugby competition will be divided into three national conferences, with each side in a conference playing the other four sides in that conference at home and away.

Fellet said he would also be happy to see Argentina join the Tri-Nations competition, which is proposed for 2012 provided Argentina can gain release of its top players from French clubs. It is unclear how the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) will benefit from the deal or who will acquire the TV rights - ESPN are the Pumas' current broadcast partner.

Fellet said the length of negotiations - which started last August - for the new agreement was not unusual, given there were six parties at the table including the pay television networks from the three countries and the three rugby unions.

And while SKY preferred to see a full house in the grandstands, because it added to the excitement, the number of spectators going to games was immaterial to the company, Mr Fellet said, pointing out that rugby made more money from the television coverage, than from spectators. On the issue of ratings, he said they were typically a valuation argument for free-to-air television, but not as important to SKY to the same extent.

"We want everything to rate well, but some people get SKY just for CNN, then they may not watch CNN for six months until a war breaks out, then they watch it non stop for a weekend, or something like that. So we value these things differently than a free-to-air," Fellet said.

"Last year during the NPC (national provincial championship) rugby was the hottest thing we've ever had. Then there have been times in the past when rugby's been down," he said. "That's one of the reasons you do a five-year deal. There'll be one year that it's a fantastic value -- you look like a genius. There'll be a year where you look like a complete moron for paying that much for the rugby, and then the other three years it's about right."

Fellet also said timing of the games in this country should be much the same under the new deal as under the current deal. Games at different times were worth different amounts. It was up to the rugby unions to look at the options and decide what was best for the game, he said.

New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said details of the agreements would be formally announced "in due course".


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