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Sport

Radio silence from Rugby Australia on deadline day for rights submissions

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Rugby Australia’s (RA) hopes of securing a broadcasting rights deal to show the domestic game in 2021 and beyond remained up in the air on Friday as the deadline for submissions passed without any of the usual announcements by the rugby governing body.

RA, whose five-year deal with News Corp-owned Fox Sports expires at the end of 2020, invited broadcasters to bid for the rights to Wallabies internationals and an array of domestic competitions by Sept. 4.

The invitation was accompanied by a warning to New Zealand from RA’s interim Chief Executive Rob Clarke, who urged the country’s rugby union to agree to a trans-Tasman competition by the same deadline or face organising their own domestic tournament next year.

RA declined to comment on Friday when asked by Reuters whether it had received any submissions from broadcasters or had any response from New Zealand Rugby (NZR).

Clarke on Wednesday told Fairfax media RA had shared “very good dialogue” with broadcasters, without naming any.

The information vacuum has been viewed as discouraging by media pundits even as broadcasters look to renegotiate sports rights deals following disruptions to scheduling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cricket rights holder Channel Seven threatened to terminate its six-year deal with Cricket Australia over concerns the domestic Big Bash League might be short of its best players due to restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus.

Pay TV provider Foxtel, which merged with Fox Sports in 2018, said it would save A$180 million (98.66 million pounds) over the next three years after renegotiating rights deals for rugby league, Australian Rules football and other sports.

Foxtel boss Patrick Delany told a sports forum this week that the media company was now “fearless” about losing a sport if it was “asking too much money” and he excluded rugby union from a list of “tier one” targets for his company.

“The rest are going to have to adjust,” he said.

While NZR secured a five-year extension on its rights deal with local broadcaster Sky Sports last year, RA rebuffed an offer from Fox Sports and went to the market to seek other bidders.

Nearly a year later, the lack of a deal is hampering RA’s ability to reset in 2021 and strike a pay deal with players, many of whom have already opted to head overseas due to the lack of certainty.

Hopes of a joint competition with New Zealand in 2021 are also gradually fading as travel curbs and border controls aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 remain in force.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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