SANZAR in for nervous time with Super15

The financial difficulties faced by troubled Irish broadcaster Setanta could affect the size of the new television contract for the southern hemisphere’s expanded rugby competition, the New Zealand Rugby Union has said.

SANZAR who control rugby in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia have agreed to expand the current Super Rugby  format from a Super 14 to a Super 15.

Irish broadcaster Setanta has been locked in emergency refinancing talks in the last two weeks and had suspended signing up new subscribers. It hit trouble after failing to secure the number of subscribers needed to cover the cost of its sports rights.

While Setanta was never likely “to be a viable bidder” for the television rights from SANZAR, the southern hemisphere’s governing body, if the broadcaster collapsed it would have an adverse effect, NZRU chief executive Steve Tew told Reuters.

“If they do fall over then what it does do is it releases a whole lot of sports rights back into the market and absorbs money that a company like BSkyB or the BBC might have used in the United Kingdom,” Tew told reporters on Friday. “It doesn’t help.”

Tew also said that SANZAR had changed their approach on the rights package that is to begin in 2011.

Previously, the entire package had been sold to a single broadcaster but this time it had been segmented and costed individually in an effort to create competition amongst broadcasters, he said.

Companies would bid on the rights to live games and delayed broadcasts as well as to new technologies such as online and transmission on mobile telephones.

The documentation would be presented to the current broadcasters News Limited, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. by June 30.

They had 60 days to analyse the package and respond with a price for the rights, which SANZAR then could accept or reject.

“Then if that fails we can go to market. Our drive is to get as much competition into the market as we can, within broadcasters and products.”

Despite the desire to introduce a competitive process and there being indications of competition within the product segmentation, Tew admitted that News Limited’s Sky Television had an advantage within New Zealand.

“We would like to be in a position that professional sport is in the U.S. where there are channels tripping over themselves to bid for content.

“But in the end a broadcast partner has to have capability in terms of capturing it and broadcasting it.

“And in this country there is only one platform who can do as many games as we play at the weekend.”

Tew also admitted the relationship between SANZAR and broadcasters like Sky in New Zealand, Foxtel in Australia and Supersport in South Africa was “not a normal commercial transactional model” but one of co-existence.

That would still not prevent SANZAR from adopting a tough line with them if they were they only potential partners.

“Our leverage is that we don’t have to do a deal with them either. If we don’t get the money required to run the game…then we have to revise the competition we have stuck in front of them.

“There still needs to be a tense discussion about how much they are prepared to pay.

“It’s a nervous time, but it’s exciting and hopefully we will get there.” he told Reuters.

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