The 2017 Rugby League World Cup: A commercial guide

As rugby league’s quadrennial showpiece gets underway in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, SportsPro looks at the competition’s sponsors and broadcast partners.

The 2017 Rugby League World Cup: A commercial guide

When Australia’s Cameron Smith hoisted the Paul Barrière Trophy into the cool Manchester air in front of 74,468 cheering fans at Old Trafford, it marked the end of a successful 2013 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC).

The clinical 34-2 rout of neighbours New Zealand returned the Kangaroos to the top of the global 13-a-side game and drew the curtains on the fifth RLWC to be held in the UK and an event that was at the heart of the British Isles’ so-called ‘golden decade’ of sport.

While most Australians were busy celebrating their nation’s 32-point win, a new record margin for a final, the organising committee for the next RLWC were already hard at work planning the 2017 edition of rugby league’s premier international competition.

The 2017 RLWC - which will be co-hosted by Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea - is the 15th staging of the international tournament. The 14-team competition kicks off on 27th October when Australia take on England at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, with the final taking place on 2nd December at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

A six-team Women's Rugby League World Cup (WRLWC) will also run alongside the RLWC with the final being held as part of a double-header with the men's event.

First played in 1954 by teams from Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and France, the RLWC has undergone multiple alterations since its inaugural edition, which was the first World Cup in either code of rugby.

The 14 tournaments held since have been played at varying intervals ranging from two to eight years. They have featured numerous different formats and amounts of competing teams, all with varying degrees of success. 

As of yet only three nations have won the competition: reigning champions Australia have ten titles, Great Britain - who have competed separately as England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland since 1995 - have won it three times and New Zealand once in 2008. 

England and pre-tournament favourites Australia are most people’s picks to contest the 2017 RLWC final on 2nd December at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium

Australia’s imposing 2017 squad are many people’s tip to retain the Paul Barrière trophy on home soil. Melbourne Storm quartet Cameron Munster, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk are among the galaxy of National Rugby League (NRL) stars that make up the 24-man squad picked by coach Mal Meninga, himself a World Cup winner with the Kangaroos.  

Nevertheless, 2013 semi-finalists England - who can call upon NRL stars such as South Sydney Rabbitohs forward Sam Burgess, as well as St George Illawarra duo Gareth Widdop and James Graham - should provide Australia with a stiff test on the opening night and are, along with New Zealand, favourites to meet the Kangaroos in the final.  

While Australia and New Zealand will share the majority of the 28 fixtures, Papua New Guinea will, for the first time, host its men’s national team’s three group games, played at the National Football Stadium in Port Moresby against Wales, Ireland and the USA. 

In a bid to build awareness of the tournament in Papua New Guinea, organisers undertook a World Cup Trophy Tour and community programme in the country.

The majority of the commercial deals struck by the organising committee are competition-wide but the Papua New Guinea games will have additional regional deals.

Primary sponsors  

KFC is the designated quick service restaurant of the tournament. The global fast food chicken chain will have a range of marketing rights, including branding on the video referee board during try referrals and pitchside signage.

Japanese carmaker Isuzu will be the RLWC’s official automotive partner, which entitles it to on-field, LED and in-venue branding for all games played in Australia and New Zealand. It will also be able to promote its association with the tournament on official digital and social media platforms and through its own dealer networks. 

Australian online bookmaker CrownBet will be the official gambling partner of the event. As well enjoying a strong brand presence at all host venues it will offer its members a selection of preferential odds throughout the championship. 

Australian company Telstra will serve as the flagship event’s official telecommunications and technology partner. As part of the deal, it will receive brand exposure throughout tournament venues on virtual and LED signage.

Meanwhile home furnishings retailer Harvey Norman will be a primary sponsor of the WRLWC. The Australian company will offer financial support and enjoy strong branding through the duration of the landmark six-team event.

Official tournament partners

Steeden will once again be the official match ball supplier for the RLWC. The Australian sports equipment manufacturer has unveiled a new line of balls and apparel for the 2017 tournament. 

Australian insurance company Youi has been named as an official partner of the men’s and women’s championships. As well as appearing on pitchside advertising, its logo will adorn the front of the match officials’ jerseys throughout both competitions.      

Powerade has been announced as the official hydration partner and will provide its own brand of drinks and water for all participating nations and match officials for the duration of the five-week event. 

Energizer will sponsor the competition’s ball boys and girls, as well as the junior team mascots. As part of the agreement, the US-based battery manufacturer will carry out a number of fan activations at games with its Mr Energizer mascot and Mr Energizer Dance Cam.     

Former Australian Test captain and legendary goal-kicking centre Mal Meninga is the head coach of the Australian national team

Road Tech Marine‘s logo will be on the goal and corner-post pads, as well as on the referees’ sleeves and pitchside LED boards, at all games played in the two lead host nations. The agreement does not, however, extend to the three group stage matches played in Papua New Guinea.

Lion brewery has been confirmed as the tournament’s official beer partner; its flagship brand XXXX Gold will be the official beer. Lion will, in addition, receive pourage rights for the beer and cider categories at all fixtures played in Australia and New Zealand, while New Zealand-based Independent Liquor product Woodstock Bourbon will receive pouring rights in the spirits category at all venues across New Zealand. 

Chocolate drink brand Milo is an official partner in Papua New Guinea. The powdered beverage already supports the League Bilong Laif (League for Life) programme, which uses rugby league to help promote healthy lifestyles.

Broadcast agreements 

Ahead of this year’s tournament media distributor IMG was rumoured to be finding the uncompetitive media rights market for the RLWC a hard sell. 

The agency signed a four-year agreement with tournament operator Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) in 2013, which was reported to be worth around US$20 million and included the rights to the 2013 and 2017 World Cups, as well as the 2014 and 2016 biennial Four Nations international competition.

The two parties are said to have had a fractured relationship throughout the process and IMG is reported to have lost money. As a result, the global agency has decided not to pursue a renewal with the RLIF. 

That said, coverage of the 28 fixtures will be available in various regions across the globe through linear and over-the-top (OTT) platforms on either free-to-air or pay-TV channels. 

The most difficult market for IMG was thought to be co-host New Zealand, where pay-TV outlet Sky NZ holds a monopoly on most of the country’s live sporting events. Subscription video on demand (SVOD) service Lightbox’s failure to disrupt New Zealand’s sports broadcast marketplace has only strengthened Sky’s position.

According to sports industry outlet Sport Business, IMG did, nevertheless, finalise a US$800,000 deal with Sky NZ, which rises from the US$450,000 it paid for the rights to the 2013 RLWC. In Australia, free-to-air commercial broadcaster Seven, which is the host broadcaster of the 2017 RLWC, is paying US$10.6 million for rights to the 2017 tournament. 

Australia’s talismanic 2013 RLWC winning captain Cameron Smith is expected play a major part in the Wallabies title defence

IMG has also agreed a deal worth US$200,000 with public-service broadcaster Fiji TV that will cover the broadcast across the Pacific Islands including the third co-host Papua New Guinea. The UK’s publicly funded BBC will show every England game live on its linear television channels, as well as one quarter-final, one semi-final and the final. It will also have an online highlights package and will offer a number of live radio commentaries on its BBC Radio 5 Live and 5 Live Sports Extra channels.

Viewers in Malaysia can catch all of the games on Astro’s pay-TV and OTT platforms, US pay-TV cable channel Fox Sports will carry full coverage of the tournament, and DAZN’s OTT outlet will have coverage of each match for Japanese viewers. 

Satellite pay-TV channel ProSiebenSat.1 has acquired the German rights and Hong Kong pay-TV provider PCCW will show a selection of games from the championship.

Venues 

Country City Stadium Capacity 
Australia BrisbaneLang Park52,500
Australia SydneySydney Football Stadium45,500
Australia TownsvilleWillows Sports Complex26,500
Australia CanberraCanberra Stadium25,011
Australia MelbourneMelbourne Rectangular Stadium30,050
Australia Perth Perth Oval20,500
Australia CairnsBarlow Park18,000 
Australia DarwinMarrara Oval12,000
New ZealandChristchurchAddington Showground18,000
New ZealandAucklandMount Smart Stadium30,000
New ZealandWellingtonWellington Regional Stadium34,500
New ZealandHamilton Waikato Stadium25,800 
Papua New GuineaPort MoresbyLloyd Robson Oval17,000