Wakefield Trinity CEO hails "massive" opportunity to showcase Super League in Channel 4 deal

WAKEFIELD Trinity chief executive Michael Carter says Channel 4 broadcasting 10 live Betfred Super League games in each of the next two seasons is the “massive” opportunity rugby league has been “yearning” for years.

Wakefield Trinity CEO Michael Carter, left, is all smiles about Betfred Super League's historic deal with Channel 4. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)

In what is described as a ‘landmark’ deal, matches will be shown free-to-air for the first time in the competition’s 26-year history, creating significant new levels of exposure for the sport.

Eight-times champions Leeds Rhinos’ first game of the 2022 season sees them host Warrington Wolves in front of the Channel 4 cameras on Saturday February 12 (12.30 kick-off) as the broadcaster begins its exciting new relationship with rugby league.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sky Sports have always had exclusive rights to live top-flight games in the summer era but, as exclusively revealed in The Yorkshire Post in April, as part of a financially reduced two-year deal for 2022 and 2023, Super League were this time given the chance to take 10 games elsewhere.

Super League say the 2021 season saw record viewing figures with more games than ever attracting more than 200,000 live viewers.

However, the Betfred Challenge Cup final, which was televised live on BBC1 in July, attracted a peak audience of 1.1m, highlighting the greater potential of free-to-air television.

Carter told The Yorkshire Post: “We were all disappointed with that (Sky deal financially) and it wasn’t a great outlook for the sport.

“But I said at the time that the fact we will be able to put free-to-air games on has a massive value to us, not necessarily in pound notes but in exposure for our players, first and foremost, for our game and ultimately our sponsors.

Pete Andrews, Head of Sport at Channel 4 (right), with Super League's Rhodri Jones at Channel 4 HQ in Leeds. (SIMON WILKINSON/SWPIX)

“This is great news. It’s really positive. (Super League chief commercial officer) Rhodri Jones has done a fantastic job getting a national broadcaster to the table and now is our opportunity to really showcase our event to a wider audience.

“There can’t be any downside for me in this. It just gives us a massive opportunity to bring positive things to rugby league which we’ve all been yearning for for a number of years.

“We’ve got it now and the intangible benefits you can’t put a price on it.

“It’s literally a free opportunity to get in front of masses of eyeballs on a Saturday afternoon.”

Carter continued: “At that time (in April), we probably didn’t think that we’d be able to bag one of the national main five broadcasters in the country.

“So, to get Channel 4 involved in it is a fantastic achievement and we really need now everybody to get behind this and be positive about it.

“I can’t wait to see that first game in February.

“This is the first foot through the door. Let’s embrace what Channel 4 want to do with the sport: there’ll be fresh voices on the TV and I’m pretty sure they have some fresh innovation behind what they want to do and it is national exposure for everybody involved in the game.

“Hopefully, come the end of the next TV deal, we have another player in the market, who really enjoys what we can bring to them in terms of viewing figures.”

Channel 4 - who recently moved their headquarters to Leeds - have been increasing their live sport portfolio, showing Heineken Cup rugby union games since 2018 (when they also took over coverage of the Ireland's autumn internationals) and broadcasting the 2019 cricket World Cup final.

Earlier this year, they followed up with the first live coverage of a Test match on terrestrial television for more than 15 years when it showed England's series in India, the first Test victory reaching nearly six million viewers.

In September, Channel 4 also secured a deal with Amazon Prime to show live coverage of Emma Raducanu’s epic 2021 US Open final success - the first time since the late 1980s it has shown the sport.

Super League chairman Ken Davy said: “We are delighted to be able to confirm a brand-new broadcast partnership with Channel 4.

"They have a great track record of showing some of the best sporting competitions.

“The opportunity to offer live Betfred Super League action to fans on a free-to-air platform across the whole season is fantastic and one that we hope will continue to serve our current fans, as well as attract many new fans to the sport.

“I must thank our principal broadcast partner, Sky Sports, without whose support this partnership would not have been possible.”

Peter Andrews, Channel 4 Head of Sport, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to be bringing Super League to free to air television for the first time in its history.

“It’s fantastic news for Rugby League fans and it’s a really special addition to Channel 4’s sports portfolio particularly since it’s one of our first major partnerships since moving to our new National HQ building at the Majestic in Leeds.”

Super League's full fixture list for the 2022 campaign is due to be revealed tomorrow morning at 8am.