Free-to-air a significant part of Super Rugby future

Publish Date
Monday, 12 February 2024, 10:01AM

Having select Super Rugby Pacific games broadcast on free-to-air TV is a “significant part” of the competition going forward as it looks to reengage with fans.

As highlighted by the New Zealand Rugby (NZR) governance review released last August, interest and engagement in Super Rugby has waned.

The review warned that the competition needed to be reinvented as fans of the sport struggled to engage with it in its current form; the most recent iteration of Super Rugby Pacific being described to the review panel as “a dog’s breakfast”.

This year will look to change that, starting with 19 matches being broadcast free-to-air. Super Rugby Pacific chairman Kevin Malloy told Newstalk ZB’s Jason Pine it was something the competition needed to do in order to make the game available to as many fans as possible.

“We appreciate that Sky is in a somewhat difficult position with this and that there is a balance for this. But I think if you look at the current situation and the need to be bringing sports like rugby to a greater fan base,” Malloy said, “I think it’s important to work out a balance and what they’re doing now in this current season, I don’t think it’s going to cannibalise subscribers frankly. It’s only one game a week and they have got other major sports that are on their station that are still going to be appealing to their fanbase and subscribers.”

The positive effects of sport being on free-to-air TV have been seen in cricket, with New Zealand Cricket boss Scott Weenink recently noting the larger audience as a result of their rights being taken on by TVNZ, following the demise of Spark Sport.

It was an observation also made by Malloy, who said the success cricket was having as a result of being broadcast free-to-air was something rugby should look to replicate.

“I think an understanding that [to] broaden the base of these sports as well, keeping them behind a paywall as we have done for the last 20-odd years, frankly, ultimately the audiences are shrinking.

“There has to be a change of strategy and I think free-to-air is going to be an important part of the mix going forward.”

Sky announced they had secured the broadcast rights of the All Blacks and Super Rugby back in 2019 in a deal that ran until 2025, reportedly worth $500 million. The deal also saw Sky deepen its investment in all levels of rugby and NZR become a shareholder in Sky.

This year, an independent body has been set up to guide Super Rugby Pacific forward, after the governing bodies in New Zealand and Australia had been doing so under the guise of Sanzaar.

When asked if there would be any interest in taking less money in the next broadcast deal if it meant more games on free-to-air TV, Malloy said it was something that had to be strongly considered.

“Talking from my own perspective here as opposed to anything that we’ve actually discussed in any sort of formal way, I think the answer to that for me would be yes.

“I think we’ve got to work to broaden this fan base and also on the back of what you do bringing it free to air, you broaden the eyeballs, you broaden the audience and that in itself increases your commercial opportunities.

“There is a little bit of a balance commercially to it as well. Whether or not those commercial opportunities fully replace what you might lose in terms of a broadcast deal with full exclusivity behind a paywall, I don’t know. But I still think for the betterment of the sport going forward, free-to-air is going to be really important.”

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission

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