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Have the RFL missed a trick? Assessing what the fixtures tell us about the new TV deal

The fixtures for the 2024 Super League season have been announced, and everyone will be eagerly waiting for that Hull derby to kick of the year; but one thing the fixture list has hinted at is how the TV schedule might look like for Super League. 

Under the new agreement between RL Commercial and Sky, all 162 Super League fixtures will be broadcast live on TV, and this left many people wondering how the format might look-would we see staggered kick-offs? Would there be a red button service? Or would we see the introduction of a new streaming service? Well Sky Sports have said it is the latter.

A statement posted on Sky Sports website last night revealed: “For the first 15 rounds of the season, with the exception of Rivals Round, Sky Sports subscribers will have exclusive access to two matches per week.

“The remaining four matches of each round will be shown live on Sky Sports and Rugby League’s own streaming platform – with further details to be announced early in the New Year.”

The statement continued, adding: “As in previous years, Sky Sports will make exclusive selections from Round 16 and beyond as the season progresses, which will include a number of additional Thursday night fixtures.”

The RFL have surely missed a trick with this.

With Sky Sports owning the rights to broadcast every game, it appeared at first that all games would be shown on the main Sky Sports channels, however with this new streaming service that is now not the case.

This could be a huge blow to what seemed an impressive feat for Rugby League-with all games promised to be televised live. Introducing a streaming service is a positive thing for the sport, however fans will be less likely to watch a game on this streaming service over a game at the same time on live TV. Furthermore, it makes fans have to go out of their way to watch the games, rather than just flicking on Sky Sports-which is how it first appeared when the deal was announced.

Another missed opportunity is the removal of Thursday night matches. Fans have been crying out for these games to end; and we thought we had seen the last of it last season-after all you have to go back to 27th July to find the last Thursday night game of the 2023 season. This year, with the new TV deal, could have been the perfect opportunity to remove these fixtures from the calendar all-together and instead schedule the same match to be an early Saturday kick-off.

Thursday night games are often poorly attended by fans in the ground and viewers at home, and with the emphasis IMG have put on fan base, both digitally and in-person at the grounds, it seems an odd choice to still include the Thursday night games into the calendar when playing the same fixture on a Saturday lunchtime would massively boost these numbers.

Furthermore, it sees a wasted opportunity to follow an NRL-style of Rugby League broadcasting, with one game seamlessly flowing into another. This would have kept fans engaged with the League; however it could only have been done with the introduction of staggered kick-off times though, which the fixture list has revealed will only happen on the weekend fixtures, but even with this fans will have to switch over to the new service to do this.

Friday night games are a staple of the Rugby League weekend, however playing a double header on a Friday night seems counter intuitive under the new TV deal. The majority of fans will watch the key match broadcast live on Sky Sports, but this would mean a poor viewership for the game on the streaming service. This again could have been remedied by moving one of these games to the Sunday.

Rugby Union is a good example of how Rugby League broadcasting could look. As part of their partnership with TNT Sports, they have one game on a Friday, three on a Saturday and one on a Sunday. This could have been a great model for Rugby League to follow, as it blends the broadcasting on live TV with a streaming service with all games getting good viewership’s.

The new deal is a step in the right direction, and Rugby League will be better for it; but the RFL have definitely missed a trick in this first season under the new deal.

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