The Garry Schofield Column: Premier League’s TV deal could spell trouble for Rugby League

SKY’S whopping new football deal might have been a great development for the Premier League – but it spells even more worrying times ahead for our sport.

The broadcaster is said to be shelling out £6.7 billion for a four-year agreement which kicks off in 2025-26 and allows the coverage of at least 215 matches a season.

The Premier League also has a package with TNT Sports for live games, while the BBC will continue to show highlights on Match of the Day, and’s it’s estimated their annual revenue from domestic screening will rise by four percent.

Compare that to Rugby League.

I know football is a very different kettle of fish, and we are never going to get anywhere near their financial figures.

But come on, while the Premier League are pulling in even more money, we are allowing our great game to be shown more often for less.

Between 2017 and 2021, it was reported Sky were paying £40 million a season.

That dropped to an estimated £25 million under the three-year agreement which has just run out.

Now, from next year until 2026, under the deal announced by RL Commercial in October, it’s been suggested Sky will hand over around £5 million a season less, while getting more bang for their buck, since they now have the ability to broadcast all six Super League matches in every round.

That’s a big financial black hole for Rugby League, and you have to wonder how it will be filled.

And given Sky’s increased investment in football, how much will be left for other sports going forward?

It’s going to be very competitive when it comes to getting deals with any broadcaster, because there are so many seeking a slice of the pie.

And while the current agreement has only just been announced, RL Commercial need to be putting our feelers for the next one already.

While the deal stayed with Sky, it was suggested DAZN, who are big players in sports streaming, had talks over Super League coverage, while Amazon, who currently have access to some Premier League matches, did not pick up any rights in the recent discussions over the new deal.

Are they, and others, already being approached with a view to setting the wheels in motion for what happens from 2027 onwards?

If I had my way, we’d be once again talking to the Hearns to tap into their knowledge and expertise in getting television coverage for boxing, darts and snooker.

But maybe that ship has sailed, and like so many folk, I’m wondering what IMG can do in that area, given they were brought in to increase the profile and value of Rugby League.

That desperately needs to happen, because the way things are, we are heading towards a return to being an almost-entirely part-time sport.

If it wasn’t for the benefactors propping up so many of our clubs – and on that front, Castleford fans will have been happy to find out more about Martin Jepson and his involvement down Wheldon Road – we would probably have been there already.

Make no mistake, if we sit on our hands, it’s a genuine possibility, as it that of one or more of the game’s weaker clubs going to the wall.

Bad news for Salford

THE departure of winger Ken Sio is yet another kick in the teeth for Salford’s loyal and long-suffering supporters.

Once again, I feel for Ian Blease and coach Paul Rowley, who have been working so hard to keep the club punching above their weight. They appeared to have the player locked in for a further season after agreeing a contract extension with him.

It seems to have been one thing after another over the last few months, what with the sale of Brodie Croft and Andy Ackers to Leeds in a bid to balance the books, the ongoing uncertainty over the long-term future at the Salford Community Stadium, and now the news that Sio is leaving on what the club term “compassionate grounds”.

He’s not just been a prolific try-scorer in the five years since he joined from Newcastle Knights – 78 in 104 appearances, I’ve read – he’s also been something of a talismanic figure for team-mates and fans alike.

Chris Hankinson, who is a useful player, has come in, but he has big shoes to fill.

We saw what happened to Wakefield after the departure of their star winger Tom Johnstone to Catalans, and you have to fear for Salford, who seem to have had the guts ripped out of them.

Despite a spirited effort, they fell short of making the play-offs this year when they had Ackers, Croft and Sio in tow, and now Rowls and his staff will need to be working at their absolute maximum to keep their charges away from the bottom end of the table in 2024.

Harry’s rising profile

SHORTLISTED Harry Smith might have missed out on the Golden Boot, with Kiwis captain James Fisher-Harris getting the nod after leading the way to that 30-0 win over Australia in the final of the Pacific Cup.

But the Wigan halfback has got a contract extension until the 2027 season and his challenge now is to get even better – and good as he is, I reckon there’s still room for improvement.

His kicking has improved with the help of specialist coaching from former Northampton and England rugby union fly-half Paul Grayson.

But he needs to work on the creative side of his game, and while catching the eye over the second half of the season as Wigan closed in on the Super League crown, he benefitted from the pressure being taken off him by having Bevan French at stand-off.

Getting more consistency is the key for Harry, who followed up Wigan’s Grand Final success with a decent England Test series against Tonga.

At this stage, Jonny Lomax and George Williams remain the best halfback pairing available to Shaun Wane, but at 33, Jonny is getting to that stage where injuries could take their toll (although to be fair, his team-mate James Roby went on until he was 37).

Harry and Mikey Lewis at Hull KR have emerged as contenders for England halfback slots going forward, and the challenge for the two of them is to keep working, keep learning, and be as consistent as they possibly can at club level.

That way, if and when international opportunities knock, they are best placed to take advantage.

Unjust fine

I FIND it really disappointing that Paul Wellens has been fined for criticism of the RFL in the wake of the row over John Asiata’s tackling technique which followed the Challenge Cup semi-final in July.

In my eyes, he was giving an honest opinion over a matter which affects the whole sport.

It wasn’t a hot-headed post-match rant following Saints’ exit from the competition, but a view, which, while strong, was expressed in a calm and convincing manner after the dust had settled.

The RFL needs to be taking that view on board.

NEWS of the incoming ban on tackling above the armpit – at grassroots, Academy and Reserve level straight away and the game overall in England from 2025 – came as I was completing this column.

It’s caused a huge debate, and I will be giving my own thoughts next Monday.