Premier Sports deal for the Championship: Q & A

The RFL Commercial Director Mark Foster answers questions put to him by League Express on the new Premier Sports broadcasting deal for the Betfred Championship

1. Can you reveal the financial details of the deal? We’ve heard that it is a six-figure deal over two years.

The actual figures are commercially sensitive. However, as I guess as you would expect me to say, I do think it is a very good deal; it is for the next 2 years and the finances of it are split into 4 main parts – a rights fee, the production costs to put over 30 games out as a live broadcast with a 45 minutes highlights of the weekend programme beforehand, an opportunity once we hit a certain number of subscribers for the RFL & the Championship clubs to share in a ‘super profit’ and also a guaranteed marketing spend by Premier Sports to promote the Betfred Championship, so we will go well beyond six-figures over the 2 years.

2. Were Premier Sports the only bidder for Championship RL and was the Challenge Cup required as the sweetener to get the deal over the line?

It is the benefit of the RFL going to market with all our rights collectively that we can create packages that the broadcasters want. We spoke to every major broadcaster during the process and a number expressed interest in different packages, but in the end the BBC taking the main Challenge Cup rights and Premier Sports taking the secondary Challenge Cup rights as well as the Championship, we believe, was the right way to go.

3. The press release suggests that Premier Sports will be able to select the most appealing fixture in their eyes from each round to broadcast on Monday night. Is that the correct interpretation?

Yes, that is correct. They will get to pick what they believe is the best game from each round, but we will work with them on these selections and will take into account a number of other things, such as fans & players, but we want to give our best games, clubs and players the biggest exposure so we want to broadcast our best game each week.

4. If so, how much notice will Premier be required to give before a fixture is changed from a Sunday, for example, to a Monday night?

This is a partnership and Premier Sports understand the need to work with clubs as well as considering fans & players in all this. Therefore with selections we hope to choose the first 50% before the fixture list is publicly announced in November this year and then giving as much notice as possible for games in the second half of the season (a minimum of 4 weeks) but to select the best game each round we need to see how the story of the season develops and choose the games that play a major part in that story – which are not always the ones you expect at the start of the season.

5. The deal is for Championship matches and for Challenge Cup secondary rights. Is the amount payable by Premier split into two components to reflect the two competitions it is buying the rights to?

No, it is one overall deal.

6. Will Premier Sports fund the entire cost of the production of each match?

Yes they will and this will be a significant investment by Premier Sports to showcase the Betfred Championship, its clubs and its players.

7. What production standards are you expecting from Premier, in terms of the number of cameras at stadiums, presenters, graphics and match build up?

A minimum production specification is written into the contract, which we feel is more than adequate. Premier Sports are very keen to work with us around on-air talent and we want to work together to present the Championship in a fresh & vibrant way. Over the past few years the RFL has become a broadcaster itself with Our League, so we have been able to uncover a number of current and past players that we think will do a great job, as well as some of the commentators and presenters that we have worked with. Every Monday game will also include a 45-minute build-up and roundup from the games that weekend – something that will also go out free to all Members on Our League.

8. Will clubs be compensated for having their fixtures switched to Monday evenings, and if so, how much will they receive?

I think compensation is very much the wrong word here; there will be a payment made to each club that has their home game moved to a Monday night, but we would expect this plus an additional central marketing budget and resource to be used by the clubs, working hard with the RFL team, to increase their crowd for a Monday night game so that we create some real events that look and sound great on TV. Monday nights present us with a real opportunity for the sport of Rugby League as well as the Championship; there’s not as much competition with other sports as there is over a weekend, we avoid Super League on Sky Sports on a Thursday & Friday evening, but we have a regular weekly slot that can create a habit for fans to watch these games at the same time on the same day each week. We know that the product on the pitch will almost always deliver, but it is about more than that – we need capacity crowds creating amazing atmospheres and we need to make sure it is all presented as well as it can be, flames & fireworks as teams walk out, music, an electric atmosphere, great stadiums – it is all part of the entertainment people want nowadays; whether they are attending in person with family & friends or watching at home on TV, we have to make sure that we do not get left behind by other sports or the many different forms of entertainment now available to people.

9. Will there be a limit on how many times any individual club can feature on Premier on Monday evenings?

Yes, there is a maximum number of times a club can have a home game selected for a Monday night game on Premier Sports.

10. Will the income from the broadcast deal be split equally between the clubs or will it be linked to performance and/or other value for money factors?

Broadcast and attendances will become the major parts of the ‘Return on Investment’ model that together with on-pitch performance (where you finish in the league) will determine how much central funding each Championship club gets. So the more a club contributes to the TV deal, through the number of games selected and the size of audience they generate, the more funding they will get, rather than splitting it equally.

11. Will there be any financial incentives for clubs to generate subscribers for Premier Sports, as there was ten years ago for National League football?

Yes, linked to the ‘super profit’ mentioned before, as we do with Our League, when you subscribe to Premier Sports you will be asked which sports rights are the main reason you are taking the subscription and if that is Championship Rugby League you will be asked which club you support and clubs share of the ‘super profit’ will be determined by how many of their fans have signed up.

12. You now have 200,000 subscribers to OurLeague. Why didn’t you decide to cover Championship Rugby League via that Channel?

As part of the Premier Sports deal we will be able to show one game per round on Our League if we want to and that is certainly something we will do on occasions next season as we will with live games from Betfred League 1 plus the Women’s & Wheelchair Super League as well as many of the community competitions as we have done in recent years. Having our own OTT platform is a major part of our broadcast strategy moving forward and we will continue to invest in and grow Our League. During the past 18 months we have been one of only a very limited number of sports that has been able to show the behind-closed-doors games on their own platform and this has delivered over £1 million into Rugby League that we wouldn’t have been able to do without Our League and it is very much part of the future.

13. Presumably you would be able to cover Championship games that are not broadcast by Premier on OurLeague, but not on other commercial streaming services?

That’s correct.

14. Will this deal affect the distribution of funds to the Championship clubs from the Sky deal for the Super League?

No, it has always been part of the agreement for 2022 onwards that we could sell the rights to the Championship separately and anything gained from that would remain with the RFL and the Championship clubs without affecting the funds that come from Super League’s broadcast deal.

15. Will there be social media content from matches created and run as matches are happening in order to drive people to sign up and watch in real time? If so, who is responsible for this?

Yes, in this new partnership with Premier Sports we have agreed a number of digital rights for the RFL and the clubs including live clips from games to go onto social media, which is something that we have not had before and presents another opportunity to drive awareness and eventually commercialisation. The RFL will work with the clubs to ensure we make the most of this opportunity.

16. Will the matches be on Premier 1 or Premier 2 and will some matches be shown on Freesports?

Most will be on the Premier Sports channels but some will be on Free Sports; we have talked about things like Summer Bash going onto Free Sports to help generate awareness of the Betfred Championship as the more people that become Rugby League fans and fans of the Betfred Championship, as we make them aware of how great it is through this additional exposure, the more we all benefit as we need the competition to grow and we believe it can through working with the clubs and the players, with the right sales & marketing behind it plus the right partners helping us and Premier Sports are a big part of that.

17. A normal subscription to Premier Sports costs £12.99 per month. Will this be the price for Rugby League supporters, or will there be some special subscription offers?

There will be a special offer for season-ticket holders. We are working through the detail with both Premier Sports and the clubs at the moment and hope to announce something very soon.

18. Will there be a highlights package from all the weekend’s Championship games?

Yes, there will be a 45-minute roundup of the weekend every Monday evening before the live game, with this roundup also going out on Our League free to all Members.

19. League 1 was not mentioned in the press release. Do you have any plans for securing coverage of that competition?

Yes, at the moment we envisage that Our League will be the main platform that broadcasts live games from Betfred League 1 next season with support from other platforms such as The Sportsman.

20. You have agreed an extended sponsorship deal with Betfred for the Championship. How did the Premier deal influence the sponsorship deal, if at all?

Like all commercial partners Betfred want to help us grow the sport and generate more interest in it, so the deal with Premier Sports was something that they have welcomed.

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