Rugby league broadcasting – the past, the present and the future: BBC, Sky Sports and Channel 4

CHARTERING the broadcasting of rugby league is quite a simple one, really.

The first television programme had been introduced by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) back in November 1936.

From that incredible creation to 22 years later, the television – that lump of glass and metal as we know it – was broadcasting rugby league on a consistent basis.

The BBC started airing the Challenge Cup Final regularly from 1958 and lower rounds from 1960, but the final had also been broadcast as a one-off in 1948 and 1952.

From the commentaries of Eddie Waring and Ray French to Eddie Hemmings and Mike ‘Stevo’ Stephenson, Sky Sports got involved in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

However, it wasn’t until the creation of Super League in 1996 that Sky Sports’ broadcast of rugby league really took off.

For over 30 years, Sky Sports has dominated the rugby league scene, with the broadcasting giant even taking some Challenge Cup games between 1996 and 1999 as well as between 2012 and 2016.

Of course, the BBC’s Super League Show has remained a constant throughout the summer era, showing highlights of the weekend action on a Monday night in the north and a nationwide repeat on Tuesdays.

Since 2017, the BBC has also remained sole rights owner of the most prestigious competition in British rugby league, the Challenge Cup.

Could the Sky Sports monopoly on Super League and rugby league be changing though?

In 2022, for the first time, there was another challenger on the scene in terms of Super League.

Channel 4 came out of nowhere, signing a two-year deal with the sport to showcase 20 games over a two-year period – it might not have been many fixtures to broadcast, but it was the first time that Sky had not been the only broadcaster to have Super League rights.

Indeed, Premier Sports followed suit too, signing a deal with the Championship to broadcast a number of games on the subscription channel.

With the takeover of IMG, the new Sky Sports deal is heading for renewal ahead of 2024 after the sport suffered a £16 million loss from the previous contract.

Free-to-air services are becoming more popular whilst live YouTube feeds are becoming more mainstream, maybe IMG fancy branching out – after all they do specialise in marketing and entertainment.

In five years time, the landscape of rugby league could look very different under IMG, but will more broadcasting services get involved?

Only time will tell in such a crucial period of time for the sport.