Brian Barwick defends new Super League TV deal and tells critics: 'I will not stand by and allow the sport to be blown off-course"

Brian Barwick (left) and RFL chief executive Nigel Wood

Brian Barwick (left) and RFL chief executive Nigel Wood

First published in Wolves
Last updated

RFL chairman Brian Barwick has mounted a robust defence of Super League's new broadcasting deal with Sky in the face of criticism from the owners of Wigan and Salford.

The reported £200m deal extends Super League's contract from 2016 until 2021 and also sees the return of championship games to the broadcaster's sports channels from this season.

RFL chiefs have hailed the agreement – insisting it could have a “transformational effect” for the game.

But the agreement – signed and sealed three years before the current contract expires - has been criticised by Wigan's Ian Lenagan and Salford's Marwan Koukash who questioned why the RFL did not enter into negotiations with rivals, such as BT Sport.

Koukash, who voted against the new five-year Sky deal said: “You don't marry the first girl you meet.

“You go out with them, you sleep with them, you try them, but don't commit to the long-term relationship until you're sure there's no one else better."

According to reports, Lenagan, said he regretted voting for the deal which was put before clubs at the last minute.

He said: “It is a dreadful commercial decision to be agreeing with three years to go on the current deal,” he said.

“We are now shut out from any increase in the value of broadcasting rights over an eight-year period.”

They are in sharp contrast to the view of Saints chairman Eamonn McManus, who said: “This is a triumph for our sport and in particular for its premier competition - Super League.

"It is certainly a total endorsement of the new league structure adopted for 2015 onwards.

"The new system will improve the competitiveness and quality of competition throughout the season and the new media valuation clearly recognises and reflects that unequivocally.

“At a stroke this ensures solvency for all Super League clubs for the foreseeable future and provides confidence to fans and sponsors in equal measure.

“They have a lot to look forward to as long as clubs take a disciplined and realistic approach to their cost bases.”

Meanwhile, Barwick, a former television executive, believes the Sky cash offers foundations for the game's future.

He said: "I have been disappointed by the public response of a small minority of Super League clubs to the securing of a new broadcast agreement with our long-term partners, Sky Sports.

"Without question, Sky have provided an outstanding service to the game in producing both live and associated programming that has been the envy of many other sports. And they have done it for two decades.

"Therefore to retain this long-standing broadcast partnership, and at significantly increased financial terms, is indeed a great win for Rugby League.

"Also, the terms of the new contract which starts in 2017 are so beneficial that they give Super League clubs, Championships clubs and the community game a fantastic, secure and long-sighted platform from which to build their futures and develop our great sport.

"As to the Super League clubs meeting last week, I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say, after hearing a comprehensive presentation on all aspects of the new deal, the clubs themselves voted to vote on the proposal.

"Most of the clubs recognised that the best result for the immediate future of the game was in front of them, as indeed the significant majority that voted in favour of the offer from Sky Sports underlined.

“The other clubs were able to vote against it as they saw fit, which is appropriate.

"What I feel isn't appropriate, though, is the tone and content of the criticism by some of the Super League clubs who have their own reservations about the deal.

"This broadcast contract is the biggest in Rugby League history and actually offers Super League clubs an uplift of 63 per cent in annual distributions.

"It is also the latest in a number of upbeat initiatives we have enjoyed in recent months: with such a strong wind in our sails, I will not stand by and allow the sport to be blown off-course."

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