US NFL deal offers pointers for NZ Rugby

Maximising revenue by splitting rights.

NZ Rugby is reportedly opening talks for rights to games in 2020 and beyond as soon as May.

A deal just wrapped up by the National Football League in the US for Thursday night football offers some pointers for how it could proceed – and could also make Sky TV nervous.

For the second year in a row, the NFL is maximising its revenue by splitting rights three ways. Games will be available through a broadcast TV partner, a streaming video partners (Amazon and Twitter) and the NFL’s own pay-per-view app.

The NFL has previously sold rights to Thursday night games on 12-month contracts. A new, $US3 billion deal with Fox (which steals rights from CBS and NBC) has a five-year duration and, despite ratings that have fallen for two years in a row, jacks up the per-game price from $US45 million to $US60 million.

A digital partner has yet to be named but the NFL says the bidding is competitive (last year, Amazon paid a relatively modest – by US A-list sports standards – $US50 million for the non-exclusive rights to 10 Thursday night games.

NZ Rugby is already there in terms of moving to five-year contracts.

But on Sunday Business with Andrew Patterson, its chief executive Steve Tew was coy on splitting broadcast and streaming rights or whether NZ Rugby would release its own app. Shortly after, it took an experimenting stab at streaming, in partnership with Sky TV, with – which offered games from the end-of-season 2017 northern hemisphere tour pay-per-view. It was very much a dip-your-toes in the water exercise but it still signalled NZ Rugby is at least thinking about its own app.

As part of its NFL deal, Fox (and we’re talking the TV rump of Fox, which was not part of the recent Disney deal), will get to have a hand in selecting the digital partner. Sky – perhaps by dint of its strength in outside broadcasting (and the lack of independent alternatives for filing games) should look to do the same here.

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