“I have little doubt Optus is genuine [in their interest]. They have been looking for local content to support the EPL [English Premier League]” Mr Hartigan said. “That said Rugby wants to appeal to people beyond rusted on supporters so to have a free-to-air broadcaster is important.”
The rights talks will be critical for Rugby Australia and its chief executive Raelene Castle. This week, NSW Waratahs chairman Roger Davis warned the Australian Super Rugby sides will go broke unless Rugby Australia delivers an uplift on its current broadcast deal with Foxtel, worth $57 million a year.
Mr Hartigan served as chief executive and later chairman of News Limited (now known as News Corp Australia) between 2000 to 2011.
During the period, a heyday period for the Wallabies, rugby blossomed in Australia. The sport was also considered a lucrative driver of subscribers for Foxtel in affluent parts of Sydney, and was easy to commercialise given support from “elite” advertisers, Mr Hartigan said.
“Whether the brand has been so damaged over the last 12 months that this is no longer the case I am not so sure,” he said.
Foxtel, which is 65 per cent owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, has been facing its own financial challenges. The pay TV company told debt investors earlier this year it would cut spending on “non-marquee” sporting content.