While it is something of a relief to hear that the Rugby League World Cup has now secured a host television broadcaster in Australia on Foxtel, a number of things should also be noted in passing about these particular broadcast rights before the media caravan moves on.
The first is that the successful bidder Foxtel has been seriously deficient in referencing the tournament to date during the course of the 2022 NRL season (with the potential exception of commentator Andrew Voss).
Whether this is at the behest of the ARLC/NRL – whose argument regarding deferring the entire World Cup tournament from last year to this one was poor, at best – or simply at Foxtel’s own initiative is an intriguing question.
Are the ARLC and NRL so naive as to not understand the value of promoting international rugby league outside of having a direct financial stake in the running of the tournament?
The answer seems to be yes, as they seemingly countenance this sort of general ignorance of international rugby league on the part of their principal pay television partner in Australia. (The ARLC/NRL might like to ask the AFL Commission if they would do the same if they had the international potential rugby league has.)
In any event, a proper international standard broadcaster would have been able to link the NRL’s countless qualifying players to the World Cup tournament at the end of the year already during this season’s comprehensive Foxtel broadcasts (every NRL game including trials).
Foxtel explicitly failed to do so, until they had a direct financial interest in the broadcasting rights. Remember this next time they claim to be the "home of rugby league". It appears this proposition comes with a caveat – we are the home of rugby league but only if we have our own money in it.
As for that other self-proclaimed “home of rugby league”, Channel Nine, they have again shown their conspicuous contempt for the international game of rugby league which has been present for decades (and was barely disguised, even while the always excellent internationalist Peter Sterling was involved and desperately tried to salvage the telecasts with his in-depth knowledge of British rugby league).
Nine did not even bother to put in a decent bid for the tournament. No doubt they will cite broadcast times in England as being unconducive to ratings here, while ignoring the fact that the last time Australian rugby league showed the international game proper respect was in the immediate lead-up to the Super League War in the early 1990s, when ratings for international rugby league games would, not eclipse, but nearly rival State of Origin ratings.
Ever since, Australian rugby league and its main TV partner Channel Nine have done their level best to marginalise the international game lest it damage the cash cow that is State of Origin.
Ten, ABC and SBS sport also appear so incapable of seeing a good deal in front of them (and so enraptured in their current sports offerings) that they didn’t bother to bid – though all could undoubtedly have done with the ratings it would have provided any of them.
Channel Seven has backed away after a successful 2017 Rugby League World Cup because unlike that tournament (which was played in Australia and New Zealand), this tournament is confined to England in the northern hemisphere and they also don’t seem to fancy the local after midnight time slots.
The second major issue is that the Federal Government has somehow permitted this tournament to elude the anti-siphoning laws, which require certain sporting events to be available for coverage on free-to-air television prior to an award of rights to pay television.
Through the Broadcasting Services (Events) Notice (No.1) 2010, only Australian World Cup matches in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea are required to be shown on free-to-air television if a bid exists; thereby ensuring the entire tournament played in England in 2022 can be moved to pay television with absolutely no coverage (not even the World Cup Final) on Australian free-to-air television, even if one of those networks had of placed a bid.
It is difficult to comprehend how the ARLC and NRL ever could have believed this was a good idea and permitted this to occur. In fact, it smacks of ineptitude and myopia to not see the obvious benefits of international rugby league coverage beyond the miserly free-to-air offering of international games contained in that legislation.
If the ARLC and NRL wants to properly leverage international rugby league in this country, lobbying to amend this legislation would be a good start.
Moreover, they need to properly educate themselves as to the historical value of the international component of rugby league as a world-wide sport, begin promoting it properly, and start encouraging their media partners to do likewise.