Rugby Australia [RA] interim CEO Rob Clarke has announced the formal process has begun to seal the code's broadcast future, while saying D-day looms for New Zealand Rugby [NZR] if they want to include Australia in a potential trans-Tasman competition in 2021.
Speaking to media on Monday, Clarke announced RA had been in discussions with several broadcast organisations over several months and they now have until September 4 to put in submissions for rights, giving NZR just three weeks to determine whether they will accept all five Australian Super Rugby sides in a trans-Tasman competition.
NZR announced plans in July for an eight-to-10 team Super Rugby competition that would include all five New Zealand Super Rugby sides, but at most only three Australian teams. It's been a point of contention for both national bodies and according to Clarke, there would be no compromise from RA as the deadline for a decision looms.
"We can't wait much longer on the whole trans-Tasman competition decision," Clarke told the media on Monday. "That's been going on now for a considerable period of time and I think it's only fair on the broadcast discussions that we're having with potential partners that we're able to give them as much clarity of what the future looks like as soon as possible.
"No [we won't compromise], we've been very consistent on that. We're increasingly buoyed by the quality of the game's we're now starting to see in our domestic competition. We've been saying this to New Zealand, and anybody that's been prepared to listen, that we're very confident in the quality of our up and coming talent, and it's starting to show on the field.
"So the clock is ticking on the whole Super Rugby competition model for 21. The corner in the road is coming on that front."
If New Zealand choose to separate from Australia, RA have guaranteed broadcasters the Australian domestic competition will include the five Australian Super Rugby sides in 2021 as they continue to discuss the inclusion of Japan or Pacific Island nations in the future.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the future of Super Rugby, Clarke detailed the 'whole of rugby' package that RA has presented to several broadcast organisations, which he stated is "the largest and most comprehensive collection of rugby rights ever put to the market in Australia".
The package includes a State of Union series, Super 8s and either the trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition or five team Australian domestic competition. Super 8s -- a new concept and one similar to European Rugby Champions Cup -- would include the top two teams from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and one side from Japan and Argentina and would run as a short-form, four-week competition.
Broadcast organisations will be able to pick up all the content or can express interest in different packages.
"The way that [Rugby Australia chairman] Hamish [McLennan] and I are looking at this is that we need to do whatever is in the best interest of Australian rugby, and we've been working hard on a variety of competition models -- not just for Super Rugby -- but for every level of the game.
"At Super Rugby level we have two models that we've put forward; one is a domestic only model and the other is a trans-Tasman model. There are two options for next year, 2021, that we have incorporated and we want broadcast feedback on both of those.
"Then we have some new initiatives that we're incorporating - a State of Union series, which is our State of Origin. A Super Eight series, which is essentially a domestic cross-over competition at the end of the domestic competition. A short form, five-week competition.
"We'd like if possible to have a Japanese team and a South American team involved in that. So whether that be the top team from the top league in Japan and the winning team out of the South American league, we'd like to see if we could do that as well to really start to round out the Super Eight series."
New South Wales and Queensland Premier club rugby competitions, as well as the best schoolboy rugby from around the country would also be included in the package, with Clarke outlining a potential national club rugby championship, which would include the best clubs from around Australia in a short-form competition.
"When you look at it that way, you have a package of rights from the roots of the game all the way through to the top of the international game," he said.
With COVID-19 causing significant financial issues for sports broadcasters in Australia and around the world, Clarke acknowledged the deal RA receives could be hit, but believes the product on offer would produce great results.
"Frankly yes, we know that sporting broadcast rights have seen some challenging times in both Australia and other markets around the world," he said on Monday.
"That said, rugby has an enormous amount to offer a broadcast partner, not just in the quantity of content we now have in this broadcast package, but the quality at every level, from grassroots all the way through to Test matches.
"We do know that the rugby audience typically is a very defined audience with the ability and spending power to actually get behind the game and I think that has a lot of attractiveness to a lot of broadcasters. I'm hopeful we're going to get to a great result, I'll let you know in a month's time."
Clarke would not be drawn into discussing which broadcasters had taken interest in the packages, but stated RA had taken part in discussions with organisations in Australia and overseas and were interested in more free-to-air coverage.
"The way we've constructed the packages is to try to encourage free to air action, particularly around State of Union, we think that is a perfect competition to be on FTA," Clarke told media.
"We would like, like we have in the past in Super Rugby, to have at least one match of the round on FTA each week and addition to the Test matches which are subject to the anti-siphoning.
"I think it's important to look at ways ultimately to grow the game. Our view is that more people who get to experience rugby through any means will actually drive greater interest back to subscription television as well. If we can grow and expand our base through whatever means -- social media, digital channels, FTA activity -- we actually think that helps the whole ecosystem of rugby and therefore subscription based models will also benefit from that."
Asked if RA were sticking with a five-year package or would look at short term deals, Clarke said they needed to remain "consistent" with their SANZAAR partners.
"It's important that we try to remain consistent with our SANZAAR partners because some of the rights that we're selling in this market obviously is their content, our SANZAAR partners content, and at least in two jurisdictions they've already sold a five-year program.
"That said I think everybody understands in the environment that we're all living in now that we may need to be flexible towards alternative deals and alternative time frames. Whilst we have stipulated this is a 21-25 package, we are open minded to having a discussion if it makes sense for both broadcasters and ourselves."