With Super League’s broadcast future now all-but finalised, attention is beginning to turn to what options Championship clubs have at their disposal in terms of broadcast deals for 2024.
At the conclusion of last season, the prospect of Championship rugby being televised seemed slim, with host broadcaster Viaplay ceasing to exist and increasing the possibility of second-tier rugby league being restricted to the RFL’s in-house channels.
However, there have been significant developments over the off-season, Love Rugby League has been told, and a deal could now be firmly back on the table.
Indeed, just last week, RL Commercial managing director Rhodri Jones said: “There’s a live conversation going on. I’m not sure we’ll get anything this week in terms of where we might end up in time for Friday’s launch, but the hope is that by the time we get to the start line, we’ll have something in place.”
2024 Championship TV deal: What we know so far
Perhaps understandably, Championship and League 1 clubs were told that the priority in the short-term towards the end of last season was securing a Super League broadcast arrangement that would benefit the whole of the game, not just the 12 elite clubs.
At that time, things were unclear about Championship’s future on TV, too. Viaplay confirmed in the final weeks of the 2023 season that they were exiting the UK market, having only just purchased a variety of broadcast entities from Premier Sports in 2022: including Championship rugby league.
But things have moved significantly in the last month or so – with Premier Sports repurchasing its entities from Viaplay, meaning its on-screen TV channels and its slot on Prime Video are likely to return in the UK in the coming months.
Furthermore, Love Rugby League has been told that some on-screen talent from Viaplay last season have been told there is a possibility of them returning on Premier for the 2024 season – heightening expectation of a deal being struck.
There are hitches, though. The production company who were largely overseeing the Viaplay production now no longer exist, meaning Premier will have to source a new company if they want to televise Championship rugby league. This has led to delays in a deal being finalised – but there is breathing space this year, with the new Championship season not set to begin until Friday March 15, when Wakefield host Bradford in a blockbuster opening fixture.
Do not expect that game to be televised, though. Wakefield have made a concerted effort to try and push for a sell-out at that fixture, and will not move it from the Friday evening slot it is currently scheduled for.
Any Premier deal would likely be for the now-traditional Monday night slot, so there will instead be another fixture from the Championship on TV in the opening round if something can be struck.
A new TV deal could provide financial boost to Championship clubs
The other big question surrounding any broadcast deal, of course, is money. Most of the talk around Super League‘s renewal with Sky Sports centred around how much income it would generate for clubs – and while Channel 4 brought great publicity and well-respected coverage of Super League, they didn’t pay to show the games.
Love Rugby League understands that some Championship clubs have prepared budgets and financial plans for 2024 without any income from a TV deal due to the continued uncertainty.
It means that if a deal is struck, the possibility of income from broadcast rights – however small that may be – would provide a valuable boost to the coffers as the season gets underway.