Exciting reports are circling that from 2024, we could be seeing a video referee at every Super League game with Sky Sports all set to extend their broadcasting rights.
Currently, only televised games in the British game feature the option for the match official to refer a decision ‘upstairs’, a topic which has caused mass debate amongst rugby league fans for as long as time.
Rights holders to Super League games for 28 years, Sky have been in partnership for the entirety of the time that the competition has existed.
Outside of the satellite broadcaster, only Channel 4 externally currently hold any rights to the top tier, and their coverage is limited to 10 free-to-air games per season.
Sky’s current deal expires at the end of 2023, and was worth just £25 million compared to the £87 million handed out by Rupert Murdock to pick up the television of matches as the switch to a summer sport was made. It’s unknown what the new deal will hold in terms of value, or ins and outs, but the future could be promising.
Super League set for video referee at every game in 2024
Earlier this month, the RFL held an AGM where members from all clubs were able to have their say on various matters surrounding the game at the moment.
In the NRL, much like what Stockley Park is to VAR for the Premier League in football, a ‘bunker’ is in place to improve the accuracy, consistency, efficiency and transparency of the decision review process in-game. Located at Australian Technology Park in Eveleigh, Sydney, the bunker even has a sponsor – KFC.
In it, one Review Official and one Senior Review Official oversee the decision review process for each and every single match. The Review Official is responsible for making a decision recommendation to the Senior Review Official who then makes the final call.
Broadcast journalist The Gamecaller’ tweeted earlier today: “I’m hearing that as part of the new #RugbyLeague broadcast deal, every Super League game next season will have a video referee as the RFL implement an NRL-style centralised bunker.
“This is a positive move and one which has been a long time coming. Great work from the RFL. I’m hearing there are concrete plans to bring this in using the Our League coverage as a base. I’m certain it would be possible with 4/5 cameras.”
Former Super League referees get involved in ‘bunker’ chat
Back in 2010, a Hull derby between FC and KR was believed to have been a trial run with just three cameras in operation, though nothing really ever came of it.
13 years on, OurLeague have so far this season broadcast two matches, and it’s believed that they were successful trial runs for video referees at non-Sky Sports games in 2024. Those two games both involved Hull FC with the Black and Whites taking on both Salford Red Devils and Catalans Dragons behind the RFL’s paywall.
In response to the tweet from the journalist earlier today, two former Super League officials got involved in the chat around the potential steps forward.
Richard Silverwood was pleased with the suggestion of fewer cameras being required. He said: “That’s all you need. Everybody is quick to make judgements on social media off non-Sky footage of what should and shouldn’t be, so 4 or 5 cameras is a good start.
“If it’s inconclusive off those, then leave it on field.”
Meanwhile, another ex-man in the middle in Ian Smith was delighted with the news, though hesitant about where the money for the advancements was going to come from. Smith added: “Centralised bunker, wow that would be awesome, who is paying for that?
“The NRL, NFL and PGMOL bunkers cost an absolute fortune so our version will be great to see and hear about.”
Smith even went as far as saying that he’d come out of retirement ‘in the blink of an eye’ to become a video referee. It’s clear to see that those who have been in the game believe this would be a positive change just as much as any other supporter.
In other TV news, Viaplay earlier today confirmed that they would be withdrawing from UK markets after a £24.1 million loss.
Accordingly, the future of the Championship’s broadcasts looks uncertain, with the Nordic-based company now focusing more on ‘core’ markets.