Super League is considering approaching Sky Sports with a proposal to show all their games live after cancellations due to coronavirus having created gaps in the broadcasters schedules.
Rugby league is continuing to operate a business-as-usual approach for as long as possible, with Super League and Challenge Cup fifth‑round fixtures set to go ahead, with spectators, this weekend. The Rugby Football League insists it will adhere to government guidance on the spread of Covid-19 but it is one of a handful of sports that has not yet gone against that advice and announced changes to its schedule due to the outbreak.
Sky will show Castleford’s game with St Helens on Sunday as an additional extra for rugby league supporters, with the broadcaster keen to have some live sport this weekend. However, the Guardian has learned that one club – understood to be the Tigers – suggested to Super League that they go one step further.
They have floated the idea of suggesting to Sky that all six games each weekend could be broadcast live: one on Thursday evening, another on Friday and two each on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. That proposal, however, is reliant on Super League either continuing as they are – a prospect that seems highly unlikely given the spread of the virus – or playing games behind closed doors, something that could happen next weekend.
One source said there was even talk of asking Sky Sports to pay to televise all the games, which would offset the costs inherited by clubs should they stage regular-season league fixtures behind closed doors. The prospect of that happening was described as “particularly far-fetched” – but Super League are keen to strengthen their long-term relationship with Sky by offering to plug holes in their schedule for as long as they can.
The RFL sent an email to clubs on Friday saying they would not consider cancelling games or even moving them behind closed doors as long as no player tests positive for the virus, even though one Leeds Rhinos player is self-isolating after displaying possible symptoms. That led the Rhinos to declare they would not travel to Perpignan on Friday morning to fulfil their Super League fixture against Catalans Dragons on Saturday.
“We have been in continual dialogue with DCMS on this matter, including again this morning and on the basis of there being no confirmed cases reported to us by our clubs, fixtures remain in place for the coming weekend,” the email said. “At all times the RFL has followed and is following the Government’s guidance as requested. We will, of course, monitor the position carefully for any changes and communicate in due course should any update be required.”
The cancellation of Leeds’s trip to Catalans has incensed the Dragons, particularly their owner, Bernard Guasch. He estimates it could cost Catalans £300,000 if their next home game, against Toronto on 11 April, is also called off.
He said: “It’s a real disaster. The Leeds game has cost a fortune and we are expecting to have to refund people for tickets to the next home game against Toronto.
“We live day-to-day and we try to deal with it but every day we get a little closer to the end of the month and we have to settle with players, staff and other costs. It is a very uncomfortable position.”