Optus pours cold water on bidding for rugby rights
Optus has hosed down suggestions it was close to signing a broadcast deal with Rugby Australia (RA) before coronavirus hit, and gave the code more bad news by saying it won't be looking to acquire local sports rights in the short term.
Former RA CEO Raelene Castle resigned last month amid speculation she was in the firing line to be sacked as the sport's perilous financial position was exposed by the global pandemic.
One of the major criticisms directed at Castle was her failure to secure a new TV rights deal, having rejected an initial offer from Fox Sports because she believed she could get more money for the sport elsewhere.
RA was also in broadcast discussions with Optus, and multiple reports have suggested the telco and rugby's governing body were just days away from signing a deal before coronavirus wreaked havoc by cancelling sports leagues around the world.
Some believe it was the final nail in Castle's coffin. Had she been able to come to terms with Optus, the financial boost to rugby may have given her some breathing space in the job. But without anything set in stone and rugby's cash crisis there for all to see, the sharks were circling and Castle was forced to jump before she was pushed.
However, Optus Director of Sport Richard Bayliss said on Friday he doesn't believe the two parties were as close as people think to inking a deal before COVID-19 struck.
He also said he can't see Optus, which broadcasts the English Premier League and recently acquired the rights to the Korean K-League, looking to move into any Australian sports in the near future.
"It's hard to almost look at that now given what's happened in rugby since. I think the speculation was out there (about signing a deal with RA) but, to be honest, we weren't particularly close, nor was it going to happen given COVID," Bayliss said on the Big Sports Breakfast radio show.
"Once that popped up, all bets were off. To be honest, we were focusing on football, that's been our No. 1 sport - our only sport for the last couple of years. And whilst we'd like to go into different sports at some point, I don't think it was particularly close.
"Once COVID came along as well, it meant we had to bunker down and focus on our subscribers and keeping people employed, for a start.
"And who knows what will happen in the future, but certainly in the short term there's not much chance of us adding any major Australian rights."
It's not what RA wants to hear as The Daily Telegraph reports Fox Sports - owned by News Corp, which publishes news.com.au - will not return to the negotiating table.
The broadcaster's relationship with Castle soured and it will reportedly continue to stay out of discussions even though she is no longer in charge.
Daily Telegraph rugby reporter Jamie Pandaram said on Twitter it was a "disaster" as RA now needs to look elsewhere for partners who will showcase its product on people's screens.
Originally published as 'Disaster': Castle claim flatly rejected