(Adds Rob Clarke quote, details on deal, background)
SYDNEY, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Rugby Australia ended months of financial uncertainty with an announcement on Monday they had reached an in-principle three-year broadcast agreement with the Nine Network starting in 2021 with an option to extend the contract for two years.
The agreement, which needs sign-off from the SANZAAR partnership, is worth A$100 million ($72.9 million) for the first three years, Rugby Australia said in a statement.
It also ended a two-decade long relationship with pay television provider Foxtel, which had seemed likely the only bidder after RA’s initial plans to test the market earlier this year fell through.
The previous agreement with Foxtel was a reported A$35 million to A$40 million a year. The Sydney Morning Herald reported last month Foxtel had offered less for any new agreement.
“Rugby Australia is very excited about our new partnership with Nine Entertainment Co. and what’s in store for our great game over the next three years and beyond,” RA’s interim Chief Executive Rob Clarke said in the statement.
The agreement will provide free-to-air coverage of one Super Rugby AU match a week on television, with the other matches and games from New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa on the company’s streaming platform Stan behind a paywall.
The platform will also stream international matches featuring the men’s Wallabies and women’s Wallaroos with selected games made available on free-to-air.
RA was facing financial turmoil with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating an already precarious situation, in which their auditors delayed signing off their 2019 accounts.
It was forced to secure A$14.2 million in funding from the game’s global governing body World Rugby to get through this year.
They also slashed more than one-third of their staff, while players took voluntary pay cuts.
Long-term sponsor Qantas ended their 30-year partnership, reported to be worth about as much as A$5 million a year.
Rugby faces a crowded sports market, battling with rugby league, soccer and Australian Rules football for media exposure and commercial agreements.
$1 = 1.3723 Australian dollars Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Sam Holmes and Stephen Coates
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.