CHANNEL 10 may pursue rugby league’s Auckland Nines to build on the success of its summer ratings bonanza, cricket’s T20 Big Bash League. The short form of rugby league made its debut last weekend with strong viewer figures on Fox Sports.
Ten’s potential interest in the Nines could also be a tentative first step after the network’s narrow failure to win the NRL’s $1 billion TV rights contract 18 months ago.
Industry observers believe telecasts of the truncated version of league could ultimately provide the perfect preparation for a successful bid when the NRL’s $1 billion overall rights deal with Nine and Fox Sports expires at the end of 2017.
Ten last broadcast rugby league some two decades ago, but has made strong moves in the sporting landscape in recent years.
The network boasts the BBL and V8s in its stable and is currently screening the Sochi Winter Olympics.
“Channel 10 only just missed out on rugby league a few years ago, and they aren’t giving up,” a source close to the network said. “They might not be able to get the whole rights until 2018, but they believe they can start with the Nines.”
Fox Sports was the exclusive Australian broadcaster of the Nines, comfortably the most-watched event on subscription television last week.
Almost 180,000 people tuned in to Saturday’s preliminary rounds across Australia, with the ratings lifting to 240,000 for Sunday’s final.
Fox Sports chief executive Patrick Delany was unaware of Ten’s possible interest last night, but maintained that his network held exclusive rights to cover the remaining four years of the current deal.
“I don’t want to go into too much detail, but we have the exclusive rights,” Delany said.
Although the ARLC did not green light the Nines until almost a year after the TV deal was announced, Delany confirmed the concept was catered for in his contract.
He declined to speculate whether Fox Sports would be open to on-selling the rights so that the tournament might be shown on free-to-air. The NRL also declined to clarify the Nines aspect of the TV deal.
Channel 10 head of sport David Barham confirmed the network would be interested in the tournament.
“We are looking at all sports,” Barham said. “I think the Nines has distinct possibility for free-to-air television.”
Even if the BBL and Nines schedules crossed over, the friendly time difference means the Nines would finish at 6pm, providing the perfect lead-in to the cricket’s 7.30pm start.
Rebecca Wilson and Josh Massoud