Six Nations chiefs are distancing themselves from “speculative” claims the tournament will operate behind a paywall under a new television rights deal worth an estimated £300m but are not ruling the controversial move out of the question.
Bids for rights to the next Six Nations broadcast package are expected to be lodged before the final weekend of the regular tournament on March 14 and officials today insisted any details of potential bids and their ramifications for free-to-air access for fans was “highly premature.”
A Six Nations spokesperson said: “Six Nations are in the process of seeking bids for various sets of media rights but these are not due for some time.
“All of this is highly premature and speculative as no proposals have yet been received by any interested party.
“We would not rule anything out at this stage and the Unions will collectively review and make a decision based on the nature of the offers received.”
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Sky, seen as the favourites to land the new deal, told RugbyPass they never comment on “any commercial right opportunities.”
Under the current deal BBC and ITV teamed up to outbid Sky by offering £90m a year and that agreement runs out in 2021. RugbyPass revealed last July that the championship will no longer be shown exclusively on free-to-air under a deal that will see CVC Capital Partners take a 15 per cent stake in the tournament.
November test matches would also be included in the new deal with Sky reportedly ready to hand over £300m although counter bids from Amazon and BT are expected. BBC and ITV will not be allowed to table a joint bid again raising the prospect of the tournament going behind a paywall.
The threat of the Six Nations being lost to Sky or BT in the lead-up to the current terrestrial deal signed in 2016 resulted in petitions being started demanding that what is seen as one of the jewels of the sporting crown in Europe was not hidden behind a pay-wall. Similar anger has already been expressed on social media with claims a paywall would significantly affect the growth of the game.
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