Six Nations to remain on free-to-air TV
11 July 2015
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I was delighted with the news that the Six Nations, perhaps the best annual international rugby competition in the world, is to remain on terrestrial television for the next six years (click here for the story). Pay to view TV has taken so many major sports and sporting events, making them inaccessible to the majority of the population, that it seemed almost inevitable that the Six Nations will follow, particularly after the thrilling finale to the 2015 tournament. But the 6N committee agreed that it should remain free to view despite the joint BBC/ITV bid being lower than Sky’s.
I remember when the RFU sold the rights to all England’s home games to Sky back in the late 1990s I think, and it was disastrous. Participation levels started to fall, particularly in the younger age groups, and it wasn’t long until common sense and the games returned to the BBC. A present-day example of the dangers of selling out to Sky can be seen with cricket. Live Test matches can only be seen on Sky in the UK and I don’t think it is a coincidence that participation levels in cricket have dropped by 7%.
At an RFU Council meeting sometime last year, the subject came up of the Government’s list of sporting events that must be shown on free-to-air television. The view of the RFU Board was that the Six Nations should not be on that list as it would restrict the number of broadcasters that would be able to bid for the TV rights. This in turn would lower the value of potential bids from the remaining broadcasters and income to the game would therefore reduce. I thought at the time it was a risky strategy but it proved to be a successful one and we can look forward to six more years of unrestricted Six Nations coverage, albeit with adverts for half the games.