“Rugby Australia will commence a formal rights offer process at an appropriate time before the end of the current rights period. Rugby has had a 25-year partnership with Fox Sports and continues to be in discussions with its key executives,” Ms Castle said.
RA’s broadcast rights include Super Rugby, the National Rugby Championships and Wallabies Tests, the latter which is also screened on the Ten Network due to anti-siphoning requirements.
If Optus succeeds in acquiring the rights, it will be the first time since Super Rugby’s inaugural season in 1996 that the competition has not been screened on traditional television.
Optus said in a statement it was “unable to comment on any rights speculation”.
But the company’s chief executive Allen Lew has previously flagged further broadcast rights acquisitions after securing the exclusive Australian rights to the English Premier League last year for the 2019 to 2022 seasons. That competition was also previously broadcast on Fox Sports.
“Our focus right now is to see what we can do beyond soccer,” Mr Lew said in August, after disclosing the company’s Optus Sport platform had 700,000 subscribers.
Optus also outbid Foxtel for rights to air the recent Rugby World Cup in Japan. But the code’s global governing body decided to stick with Foxtel.
Earlier this year the pay-TV provider said it would cut spending on “non-marquee sporting content” after posting a financial loss of $417 million last year.
Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany, in August, also warned Rugby Australia that the broadcaster would reconsider its interest in the Super Rugby rights if the organisation pursued plans to make more of the competition available more widely.
The end of the negotiating period for the rights has coincided with serious internal conflict within Rugby Australia, and as mining billionaire Andrew Forrest threatens to create a breakaway national side after Perth-based Western Force were dumped from Super Rugby.
Rugby Australia chairman Cameron Clyne will retire in March, while former Nine and Seven boss David Leckie has been scathing of the organisation’s hierarchy.
“Make no mistake, rugby in Australia is in a very precarious position right now,” Mr Leckie told The Australian last week. “The Rugby Australia board has sat back and allowed that to happen.”
Rugby Australia has weathered a number of other controversies this year. It faces lengthy legal action from former Wallabies star Israel Folau over his sacking from the code and then endured a disappointing World Cup quarter-final exit.
Kylar Loussikian is The Sydney Morning Herald’s CBD columnist.
Jennifer Duke is a media and telecommunications journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.