Rugby Australia has moved into a new era after partnering with Nine Entertainment Co. and its streaming service Stan in a three-year deal that will see Super Rugby on free to air for the first time.
The $100 million deal, which has an option for a further two years, sees RA cut ties with News Corporation's Foxtel after 25 years.
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It's a massive boost for rugby after RA shed more than 40 per cent of its workforce, plus wage cuts for players, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From next year, one Super Rugby AU game will be shown live on the Nine Network each Saturday night as well as the competition finals and Wallabies Tests.
Stan Sport, which will launch next year, will stream the remaining Super Rugby AU games, the women's competition and Super Rugby Aotearoa, plus the Rugby Championship and Wallaroos Tests.
The deal follows the lead of Optus Sport, which televises the English Premier League, and also Foxtel's Kayo.
However, it is the first to share content between a free-to-air network and its streaming service, which will also become a broadcaster in its own right.
In a massive logistical commitment Stan and RA will team up to cover every Shute Shield club rugby game in NSW and Hospital Challenge Cup in Queensland.
The deal was confirmed on Monday after more than 12 months of negotiations when then RA chief executive Raelene Castle rejected Foxtel's initial offer, seeking a free-to-air component.
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RA interim boss Rob Clarke said Foxtel were in the race and had "every chance to compete" right up until Saturday, but the RA board voted unanimously to go with Nine.
"This is a landmark broadcast arrangement for Rugby Australia that will usher in a new era for our game," Clarke said.
"It's a superior deal in cash and contra to our current domestic deal and for the first time in Super Rugby history, free to air television exposure.
"This - for our commercial partners and for our Super Rugby clubs - will be very significant and will help to underpin the economics of the game."
Clarke said the money wouldn't be going entirely to the "elite end", with plans to funnel funds back into grassroots and development pathways.
Stan chief executive Mike Sneesby said the sports channel would be an add-on package to their entertainment offering.
"This deal with Rugby Australia is a first for Australian television; cross platform streaming broadcast distribution delivered through Nine and through Stan under a single partnership," Sneesby said.
"It's a partnership where we can combine free to air broadcast with subscription opportunity to maximise the commercialisation of the sport - that's great for business and great for rugby."
It's unclear what other sports Stan can secure for its new service although Sneesby admitted they were on the hunt.
Nine chief executive Hugh Marks said the international aspect of rugby appealed, as well as the growth in the women's game.
With Nine already televising the NRL, Australian Open tennis and Super Netball, he was confident rugby would be "profitable".
Marks said there had been discussions with RA about bringing innovation to the broadcast.
"We have got some pretty exciting thoughts and concepts about how we are going to bring some new things to the coverage of rugby," Marks said.
"I think you will see some pretty exciting developments."
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