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World Cup organisers step up hunt for Australian broadcast deal

World Cup organisers believe the entry of streaming services like Stan and Amazon Prime into the sports market could benefit the international game as they prepare to open negotiations for the Australian and New Zealand broadcast rights.

With the BBC having committed to televise all 61 matches of the men’s, women’s and wheelchair World Cups in Britain, RLWC2021 officials are now focused on securing broadcast partners in Australia and New Zealand for the end-of-year tournament.

RLWC2021 broadcast lead Russell Scott travelled to Australia early last year for preliminary talks about the World Cup broadcast rights, which were previously held by IMG and on-sold to Channel 7 for the 2013 and 2017 tournaments.

Since Scott’s trip, which coincided with the 2020 Australian Open tennis grand slam in Melbourne, Stan – owned by Nine – and Amazon Prime have begun buying Australian and New Zealand sporting content.

Nine, the NRL’s free-to-air broadcaster, launched Stan Sports in November after negotiating a three-year deal with Rugby Australia, while Amazon Prime purchased the rights to stream all New Zealand cricket matches into India until 2025, beginning with the recent series against Pakistan.

While there are concerns about the viability of the World Cup, officials are optimistic the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, coupled with the fact the opening match isn’t until October 23, will enable the tournament to be played and are stepping up negotiations with broadcasters.

Isabelle Kelly tries to make a break for the Jillaroos against New Zealand in the 2017 World Cup final.
Isabelle Kelly tries to make a break for the Jillaroos against New Zealand in the 2017 World Cup final. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

"We have appointed an agency that is going to work with us now to sell the rights into Australia and New Zealand first [before other countries], and that will happen fairly quickly," Dutton said.

"We are going to go to market in the next month but we have received an awful lot of interest already.

"Obviously there are some new players in the market and it’s very interesting to see what Amazon Prime are currently doing, particularly in cricket, so we are very optimistic about broadcast rights in Australia and New Zealand."

With Brazil in the eight-team women's tournament and Jamaica and Greece having qualified for the men's World Cup for the first time, officials are aiming to reach the biggest global audience in the game's history.

"The BBC will cover every minute of all 61 games, which if you compare that to anything that has gone before in rugby league, is definitely transformative," Dutton said.

"Now if we can get the right exposure in Australia and New Zealand – and then the rest of the world – this then becomes a really interesting commercial proposition that can hopefully be monetised in the future by the IRL.

"Australia and New Zealand are obviously incredibly important, that is our primary focus and that will happen fairly quickly.

"Then we have an ability to look to the rest of the world and with the new nations that are playing, like Brazil and Jamaica, all of a sudden the global offering becomes more interesting and more important."

Mitchell Moses shapes to pass for Lebanon against France at the 2017 World Cup.
Mitchell Moses shapes to pass for Lebanon against France at the 2017 World Cup. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

The Kangaroos are scheduled to play their first match against Fiji at Hull on October 23 - just hours after England host Samoa in the World Cup opener at St James' Park in Newcastle.

The other teams in Australia's pool are Scotland and Italy, while the Kiwis have been drawn to play Lebanon, Jamaica and Ireland before the quarter-finals.

The Jillaroos play their first match against the Cook Islands in York on November 10, with France and New Zealand also in their pool.

The men's and women's tournaments finals will conclude with a double-header at Manchester's Old Trafford on November 27, with the final of the wheelchair tournament - featuring Australia - to be held on November 26 in Liverpool.

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