There’s been quite the backlash since it was leaked that the Six Nations TV rights could be sold to a satellite broadcaster but we all have to move with the times and it might not be a bad thing.
I understand it’s an evocative issue and one that’s always going to prompt a strong reaction but the media landscape has changed drastically since the last time some of England’s games in the competition were on Sky in the late nineties and we can’t just ignore that.
The first thing that should be said is this is not a done deal just yet but the one thing we do know from sources close to the deal is that ITV and the BBC won’t be allowed to make another joint bid to keep the existing arrangement intact.
That obviously massively increases the likelihood of the competition going behind a paywall and the pervading narrative seems to be that would be a bad thing but that isn’t necessarily the case.
The example of cricket is always cited and the link made between England’s games being broadcast on Sky and a decline in participation. Of course, that has to be a major consideration for the unions in rugby at the moment but without Sky cricket would be in a far worse place today in my opinion.
They’ve been at the forefront of a host of major developments and advancements in the sport over the past couple of decades and, while the viewing figures are clearly lower than they would be on terrestrial TV, have done a lot to try to boost participation too.
Formula One is always banded about in the conversation as well because of CVC’s prior involvement in that sport. The private equity firm is buying a 15% stake in the Six Nations for £300 million and many people are concerned about their intentions.
Let’s make no bones about it, their intention is to make money and deliver a return on their investment but I don’t think the issues people have with F1 are CVC’s fault.
They made a huge amount of money from the sport between 2006 and 2017 but I think it’s up to the stakeholders in Formula One to continue to improve the product. CVC aren’t going to invest in rugby to run it into the ground and it’s up to the unions to look after the game.
There’s been some talk that the Six Nations should be part of the so-called ‘crown jewels’ list of sporting events that are protected and can only be shown on free-to-air channels but that is something that came into being in 1991 and was updated for the first time in 20 years last year.
The sports broadcast market has moved on and the Six Nations is actually a Group B listed event anyway, which means it can be screened on pay TV if terrestrial channels are handed secondary rights, so highlights at least will remain on free-to-air television.
The way we consume media nowadays and the way we live our lives is so different to even five years ago, let alone a couple of decades ago, and it’s important to get the right broadcast partner but whether that’s a satellite or terrestrial one remains to be seen.
Streaming services are on the rise and looking to get into sport more and more, with Amazon having dipped their toe into the Premier League football rights market already, and social media and short video clips are huge in terms of engagement now.
If you look at club rugby, BT Sport is the home of the Premiership and Champions Cup, Premier Sports has the Guinness PRO14 rights and the likes of Channel 4 and Channel 5 also broadcast matches so there are a lot of subscriptions to buy if you’re a rugby fan.
In international rugby the picture is similar outside of the Six Nations, with Sky currently having the rights to England’s autumn internationals but the other home nations having rights agreements with various other broadcasters. That’s clearly something CVC would like to be more streamlined.
The sums being mentioned would represent an increase on the current deal and the RFU are in need of money if reports are to be believed, with the WRU and others surely welcoming an increase too.
It’s obviously up to those unions to use that revenue wisely and reinvest it into the sport and, ultimately, money talks and CVC and the unions are clearly out to make money but I don’t think this is all about cold hard cash.
It’s about finding the right broadcast partner. We have to move with the times and if the Six Nations does move away from terrestrial TV, it might not be the worst thing in the world.
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