Armchair Rugby League fans are set to be charged to view England’s one-off Test match against Samoa in Australia next month.
The mid-season showdown at Campbelltown Sports Stadium on May 6, England’s only competitive fixture before this autumn’s World Cup, will be streamed live across the UK and Europe on the RFL’s website at www.rugby-league.com with no coverage on television.
The governing body are believed to have rejected an offer from the BBC, who wanted to broadcast the game live on free-to-air television. Instead, viewers will be charged £3.49 up until 24 hours before kick-off and £4.99 after that, though anyone buying a Magic Weekend ticket before 10.30am on May 5 will receive free access to the stream.
The decision has been met with criticism by fans, including Castleford Tigers supporters who want to watch several of their stars who look set to be chosen to play in the game - Luke Gale, Michael Shenton, Zak Hardaker and Mike McMeeken are all contenders for a place in the England side.
But RFL chief commercial officer and Super League executive director Roger Draper has defended the live streaming plan, claiming it offers “tremendous value”.
He said: “The way in which people watch sport is changing and we know there is significant demand to watch rugby league and particularly our national team.
“We believe that at just £3.49, the Test match between England and Samoa offers tremendous value for what promises to be an incredible contest between two top sides.
“This one-off game also gives us the perfect opportunity to test and learn more about the market for live streaming as we begin to prepare for the future landscape of sports broadcasting and how rugby league can best take advantage of it.
“We value all our broadcast partnerships tremendously and terrestrial coverage for our national team is very important to us, which is why we have secured deals that will show all of England’s games in both the 2017 and 2021 Rugby League World Cups live on terrestrial TV, but the world is moving quickly and viewing habits are changing and we are excited to explore this opportunity.
“For this game we entered into conversation with a number of organisations interested in buying the broadcast rights, however the terms that were offered were not considered acceptable for rugby league.
“We value the rights for our national team significantly higher than any of the offers and, therefore, felt that the right decision for this Test match was to take it into our own hands and stream the game.”