TV deal Q&A: Weekly Channel 4 fixtures, Our League future & how Super League clubs have reacted

Aaron Bower
Channel 4, Super League

Adam Hills and Danika Priim presenters of Super League on Channel 4. Photo by James Heaton/News Images

Love Rugby League journalist Aaron Bower has answered your questions about the new Super League TV deal. 

Nick Weston: With the coverage of every game, what’s the future for the lame duck that is the OuRLeague app?

The plan is to significantly revamp and upgrade OuRLeague, potentially with it being the home of a lot more Super League games into 2024. There is an awareness that OuRLeague was designed as a membership platform and it shouldn’t completely lose its roots in that regard but there is an appetite to do more with the platform.

Sky and Super League are yet to reach a final decision of where every game will be broadcast, but it’s unlikely Sky will show them all. That leads us down the avenue of OuRLeague: and you do wonder what a company like IMG could do with it if they had the opportunity. That is where the talk of new commercial deals and increased revenue comes in: making OuRLeague profitable, attractive and almost a diet version of the Watch NRL app. 

Gary Ormiston: Is this the end of Sky giving fans two weeks notice of kick off changes, as far as I know round 25 is still to be confirmed.

That’s a good question, and one all fans will want a proper answer on. Unfortunately I fear that we’ll still have the same issues in that regard as, naturally given how they’re the host broadcaster, Sky will want the most relevant and important games. Everyone else gets the rest.

NowtTekkenOwt: Does this deal put us any closer to a weekly free-to-air game on Channel 4? Are they interested? Is this even possible under the agreement?

Working backwards through those questions. First and foremost: yes, it is categorically possible and highly likely Super League remains on terrestrial television in 2024. Sky are happy for that to happen – something DAZN, I’m told, weren’t. They wanted the sport all to themselves. 

Channel 4 are interested in returning to the negotiating table to extend the two-year deal signed at the beginning of 2022 but it has to be right for the sport. As is widely acknowledged, they don’t pay for Super League at the minute and RL Commercial, in tandem with IMG, are certainly open to exploring other terrestrial avenues.

In regards to a weekly game, I’d wager that’s still unlikely. There will be regular Super League, but not weekly, on free-to-air.

Paul Mitchell: More of a rhetorical question, but with Sky seemingly getting more for less, have they got the sport over a barrel with no other serious competition for the TV deal?

There’s probably a whole separate article that could be written debating whether Sky have got more for less. Yes, they’re paying around £1million per year less, but they’re also agreeing to produce every single Super League game. That’s around twice as many as they normally do: and that comes at a cost. Granted, it isn’t money in rugby league’s pocket directly.

The competition from DAZN – less so TNT Sports – was serious. Whether they’ve got the game over a barrel remains to be seen. I think this deal probably reflects the fact the market is evolving – and privately, those at the top are optimistic with the avenues the finer details of this deal – such as games on OuRLeague and other platforms – opens up. It’s up to the sport to maximise its potential financially. 

James Walerych: How have the Super League clubs reacted to the new TV deal figures?

In short: pretty positive. One club CEO described the initial fear of the television deal ‘resembling something like a pig’s breakfast’ before it was upgraded and improved in recent weeks. There was a genuine fear that the drop-off in payment from the host broadcaster was going to be huge at one stage; there’s no doubting competition from the likes of DAZN drove the final price up.

Clubs are generally happy with the figure being in the region of £23million, but there is certainly a watching brief to see how IMG and RL Commercial go about topping that up via games on other platforms and commercial deals on top of Sky Sports’ final price. 

JustJohn: So in simple terms, can Super League sell and profit from the remaining untelevised matches that Sky film and produce at Sky’s cost?

In a sense, yes. Sky will produce every Super League game and it’s likely the non-televised games on Sky Sports and a free-to-air partner end up on a revamped, improved OuRLeague. They almost certainly won’t appear on a regular TV channel elsewhere.

Super League would effectively profit from those matches in ways like sponsorships and deals and the hope that an improved in-house platform would bring with it new opportunities commercially. It’s boring stuff to you and I, but very important for the game.

Steven Holland: When do we go to 14 teams?

Nothing about this new deal changes the direction of travel in regards to structure. 

TheTryline: Are we going to have NRL-style staggered kick offs or will teams remain free to have matches when it suits them?

This is a big talking point: and the answer isn’t simply black or white. With Sky offering to produce every single Super League game from 2024, it is increasingly likely you’ll see weekend days where kick-offs are staggered. Which can only be good news for the consumer and the possibility of new commercial deals. Indeed, Super League and IMG will encourage clubs to play in their own unique time-slots. 

But there are at least a couple of snags when it comes to the dream of every game having its own standalone slot, like the NRL. The first is short turnarounds; Thursday nights will remain in the calendar in some format, meaning teams who play the following Thursday will have to play earlier in the weekend, if that makes sense. So that could inevitably result in clashes. 

That prospect of a clash increases when you factor in some clubs are merely tenants in their stadia given how it is owned by, or at least preference is given to, football teams. So in short, there will be more staggered kick-offs, but it won’t be guaranteed that it’ll be every single week.

Stuart Akister: Will they be bringing back the Thursday night games that seem to have disappeared last few weeks?

Thursdays will remain in the calendar, I’m told. It’s a unique time-slot particularly through the summer months, when there is little in the way of major sport to clash with it. Sky Sports, IMG and Super League all like the slot.

But I’m told it’s going to be far from the regular, weekly slot it has been in recent years, which I think is a shame. That’s because you’ve got to factor in things like turnarounds and the possibility of teams wanting to play on the weekends in games broadcast away from Sky. 

COYFCast: Do we have any idea how much it will actually cost to produce every single game to broadcast standard? Presumably if Sky are covering these costs as yesterday’s statement alludes to, the *true* value of the TV deal is actually much higher than the £23m reported?

A good question from a good podcast! I don’t have full, exact figures but I have been told this week that when video referees at every game was mooted a few years ago, the cost was put at around £350,000 per season to make it happen. Naturally, that put clubs off.

Most of that cost came through cameras and staff, and Sky Sports will now provide that internally. So you’re definitely right in terms of the real value to the sport being higher than the figure that drops in the bank.

Exclusive: RL Commercial director reveals key details that saw Sky win Super League rights & responds to financial shortfall questions