Martin Johnson has fired a warning shot at Six Nations officials over speculation that the tournament’s UK broadcast rights will soon go behind a TV paywall.
The 2003 World Cup-winning England skipper, who played and coached in the tournament, is currently a BBC TV pundit.
However, regardless of that vested interest, he believes the tournament must remain on free-to-air TV or suffer a massive decline in viewing figures and popularity.
Weekend reports claimed that BBC and ITV, whose joint bid for UK live TV rights was successful when the tournament was previously up for grabs, are apparently not allowed to jointly bid on this occasion, leaving the door open for Sky Sports to secure the rights.
Speaking in the Daily Mail, Johnson insisted: “It would be disastrous to take the Six Nations off terrestrial TV. There would be very little rugby left on terrestrial TV. You get big viewing figures for these games — millions of people.
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Six Nations won’t rule out paywall
“The Six Nations has got to be on terrestrial TV. I have a lot of friends who don’t watch any other rugby but they love the Six Nations. It’s part of their sporting calendar. There are certain things that are very traditional, that people have watched all their lives.
It’s believed that viewing figures for last month’s France versus England match in Paris had a peak audience of seven million people, a gigantic number when compared to how Sky Sports fare with their frequent less-than-one-million figures for November internationals from Twickenham.
'It would be a disaster to take the Six Nations off terrestrial TV'
Martin Johnson issues stark warning to rugby chiefshttps://t.co/pIuKKkcRN5
— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) March 3, 2020
“The TV coverage of the Six Nations is the first thing that got me into rugby,” continued Johnson. “It’s a massive shop window. My first memories are watching rugby on TV when I was eight.
“It’s the same now with my little boy. You figure out who all the teams are and who all the players are. You could feel the atmosphere coming out of the TV and you thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what’s this?’ It was gladiatorial. There is something very emotive about it that just grabs you.
The Six Nations have told RugbyPass that they are refusing to rule anything out following reports that they are to go behind a paywall.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 1, 2020
“They were more than just games — they were massive occasions and they still are. People build their weekend around it. Club rugby wasn’t like that. It didn’t have the same energy and excitement. To put the Six Nations on satellite TV would be a huge mistake.”
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