Stan Sport 6 months in – is the game plan on track? Nine’s Brent Williams reports

Following the conclusion of the Super Rugby Australia (AU) season, Nine's head of sport Brent Williams spoke with Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson about the first six months of Stan Sport and future possibilities for adding more sport to the platform.

Six months on from its launch, Nine’s sports streaming service Stan Sport has just wrapped up its coverage of the Super Rugby AU 2021 season.

The final, between the Queensland Reds and ACT Brumbies last weekend, reached around 1.3 million people according to Nine, across Stan Sport, Channel Nine, 9GEM and 9Now. The match had 100,000 watching on Stan Sport alone.

207,000 metro viewers watched the Super Rugby AU final

Nine’s head of Sport, Brent Williams, points to those numbers as stronger across the season compared to recent years on other broadcasters as proof that the model works.

He also contests that the well-publicised dwindling numbers of viewers when the competition was on Fox Sports (via Foxtel or Kayo) wasn’t an accurate reflection of Australian interest in the sport.

“We’ve had some really strong numbers all throughout the super rugby season, both across Nine with our free-to-air offering, and also Stan Sport. What we’ve tapped into is a model that works and appeals to fans of all levels,” he tells Mumbrella.

The Super Rugby AU final was watched by an average of 207,000 metro viewers according to OzTAM, with that number reaching an average of 305,000 nationally and hitting national a peak of 467,000 viewers across Channel Nine and GEM.

Nine also reports that the final was up 232% in viewership year-on-year compared with Fox Sports, while across the season audiences were also up 162% year-on-year.

“Our Stan Sport offering [includes] extended coverage, it’s deeper analysis, more for your dedicated, passionate fans. The free-to-air offering every Saturday appeals to the more casual viewers to sample what a great sport rugby is, and what it has to offer.

“It’s also been a good chance to re-engage with fans who have drifted away from the sport over the last couple of years. The success has largely been based on a model that’s working for us at the moment across both free-to-air and Stan Sport.”

Nine head of sport Brent Williams

Not only have the ratings been higher than in previous years, but the Stan Sport subscriber base has been steadily growing over the course of the season, with Nine CEO Mike Sneesby recently revealing that numbers are approaching 150,000 subscribers.

Speaking at the Macquarie Australia Conference, the former Stan boss said that around half of those subscribers were completely new to the platform, while the other half had taken up the additional $10 upgrade option, having already been subscribers of Stan (which costs between $10 and $19 a month depending on the subscription).

“We had consistent growth [in subscribers] throughout the season. There weren’t really any spikes, just consistent growth which indicated to us the model we had and the way we were doing it was on the right track,” Williams says.

So what do commercial partners who’ve signed on for Rugby this year think? Isuzu and Makers Mark came on board this year and have been key sponsors throughout the Super Rugby AU season.

Williams says they’ve been pleased with what they’ve got out of it. The feedback has been “incredibly positive… [and] again that goes to the quality of the product”.

“It’s been fantastic from the word go and our commercial partners who have bought in, they’ve all been very happy with the job [we’ve done].”

Director of sales – sport, Matt Granger, adds that Nine has delivered results and insights for brand partners.

“The Super [Rugby] AU has seen our partners get an insight to the breadth of Nines Rugby content and coverage across radio, digital, publishing and a total television ecosystem, with Isuzu capitalising on their Rugby partnership with a Stan Sport extension.

“Super AU ratings has delivered above forecast, culminating in the Super AU Final. With the addition of Makers Mark as a Nine Rugby sponsor, we look forward to the trans-Tasman tournament and the Wallaby test matches ahead.”

The Queensland Reds beat the ACT Brumbies 24-22

While this year has been a good start, Williams says, trans-Tasman tests against New Zealand and other international matches coming up will see Stan Sport and the Nine ecosystem continue to help build Rugby back to where it was previously in Australian sport.

“I think the biggest benefit we’ve got here is the power of the Nine ecosystem across free-to-air, Stan Sport, radio, print, digital. It’s a one-stop-shop for sporting codes.

“I think it’s the power of that Nine Network and what we can bring to the table in regards to the promotion and exposure, reach and scale that means we can keep more eyeballs than have ever been hit before.”

One facing Williams and Nine is deciding the extent to which matches will continue to be aired for free on Channel Nine or GEM to encourage casual fans to watch, being careful not to disincentivise them from signing up for Stan Sport when they want more.

“It’s an interesting balance and it’s a matter of getting that balance right. With the Super Rugby season and Trans Tasman and international matches still to come this year, one free-to-air match a week is enough for free-to-air viewers. With a goal of engaging with those casual fans and converting them into dedicated fans.”

So would the next logical step be to begin offering expanded NRL content across Stan Sport as well, with the goal of getting Rugby League fans on the platform too?

It’s not that simple. For one, Nine shares the rights with Fox Sports, and the NRL is one sport that the Murdoch-owned network is still betting big on with plenty of additional content available on Kayo.

But it’s a future possibility, with Williams refusing to rule out offering NRL content on the platform. “I think we’re open to discussion on everything at the moment. We’re talking to a lot of people around potential partnerships, so I don’t think anything’s off the table.”

When looking around at expansion possibilities for the service, there’s a parallel to be drawn between where Rugby Union was at the time Stan Sport snapped up the rights when compared with the state of the current broadcast deal for Australia’s premier football competition, the A-League.

In 2020, Fox Sports renegotiated cut-price deals for the Super Rugby and the A-League, after the pandemic put both competitions on hold.

The A-League’s (and W-League’s) latest deal is up at the end of the season, and with Fox Sports and Kayo coming under fire for technical difficulties and low production values, several outlets have reported that Nine is interested in the football.

The tennis comes to Stan Sport later this month

While Williams reiterated that while Stan Sport remains focussed on Rugby, and upcoming tennis tournaments Roland Garros and Wimbledon, he also refused to rule out adding the A-League to the content slate.

“Other sports are in mind. [There are] lots of possibilities, lots of possibilities,” he says. “There’s still a lot of Rugby to go this season, and we’re heavily focussing on that over the next eight-to-ten weeks.

“After that, what’s next, who knows? But what we’ve tapped into is a model that works. There are other sports that may be interested in becoming a part of that.”

Successful broadcasts of the French Open, which starts on 30 May, and June’s Wimbledon, will be important steps in showing that Stan Sport can be more to advertisers than just Rugby.

“We have the tennis just around the corner with Rolland Garros and Wimbledon. That’s a similar model with both of those iconic tournaments, we’ll have daily free-to-air exposure, plus extended coverage on Stan Sport with every court, every match, every minute of every match.

“It’s offering sports fans a deeper way to consume their content. And if we can offer them every possible way to consume that content, within our own ecosystem, that’s a pretty powerful thing.”


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