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Pro14 won't rule out option of going exclusively to satellite TV

Martin Anayi has invited broadcasters to join the rights bidding war when it begins next year in a move designed to secure as lucrative a deal as possible.

MARTIN ANAYI, THE CEO of Pro14 Rugby, says they are prepared to sell television rights exclusively to a subscription-based broadcaster in a bid to maximise revenue on the back of the tournament’s expansion.

A view of Guinness PRO12 branding The current TV deals expire at the end of this season. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Anayi has previously stressed the need for an improved television deal to bridge the gap between the wealth and resources of the Pro14 competition and that of the England and French leagues.

The four-year deal signed by Sky Sports back in 2013 (and commenced in 2014) to show 30 games a season expires next year, while TG4′s current agreement to broadcast fixtures free-to-air in Ireland also comes to an end in 2018.

Speaking at the 2017/18 season launch in Dublin today, Anayi refused to rule out the possibility of Pro14 Rugby switching to satellite TV only with the addition of two South African teams — the Cheetahs and Southern Kings — potentially bolstering the competition’s value to broadcasters.

“I already know there is, yeah,” he said, when asked would there be a radical change in the TV deal structure next year.

It’s working, what we’ve created is a tournament with a renewed vigour and we’ve got five tier one nations in it to ensure there are more international players that are coming through and it is competitive. The sponsors and the broadcasters have reacted well to that.

“All of those options are on the table because you have to when you’re in our position. The most important thing is we allow our clubs to be competitive on the pitch and that means you have to generate as much revenue off it and that’s through fans coming through the gate and also from television and sponsorship.

“There’s an argument either way. If you put more games exclusively onto pay, you might see more people come to the games, arguably. Currently it’s easier to watch it on TV rather than go to the game itself. There might be a rebalancing of that but I’d never rule out going exclusively to pay because it’s worked for other sports at the point we’re at in our life cycle.”

Martin Anayi Pro14 Rugby CEO Martin Anayi speaking at today's launch. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

eir Sport, currently only available through a BT Sport subscription package, has made no secret of its desire to enter the bidding process for the rights when it begins, while it remains to be seen if Sky will express an interest for a second cycle.

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Among the coaches and captains at the Aviva Stadium were representatives from the Cheetahs and Kings, with Anayi stressing that the benefits of expanding the tournament to 14 teams far outweighed any risk involved.

“Fear is the thing that drives you ultimately and risk, if you aren’t engaging with opportunity that has an element of risk involved that’s not a competition or business I want to be involved with,” he added.

“I’m a lawyer by trade so risk is something I always start with but very quickly with this opportunity, the risk was mitigated. The benefits far exceeded the risks.”

While not specifically mentioning the territories of USA and Canada, Anayi said that the tournament organisers are continually exploring options to expand further but the focus for now is making the new format work.

“The South Africans ticked a lot of boxes and the process was remarkably quick where as some of the other territories we were looking, and we’re still looking at, it’s just a longer timeline as a few of those boxes aren’t ticked straight away.

“We’ve concentrated on this [expansion] and we’re excited by that. That’s what we’re focusing first and foremost and not taking our eyes off the prize. We’ve got to get that right first.”

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