UK outlet "The Rugby Paper" have set social media a flutter this morning with their exclusive story that Sky are leading the way for exclusive rights for the Six Nations from 2022.
EXCLUSIVE: Six Nations to go behind paywall, as Sky lead the way in TV rights race
Current broadcasters BBC and ITV told they can’t join forces again. Read @JackoRugby’s full story in tomorrow’s TRP. pic.twitter.com/25ZjehlKl0
— The Rugby Paper (@TheRugbyPaper) February 29, 2020
In the piece, Peter Jackson claimed there is "very real danger" of the Six Nations disappearing from free-to-air TV with Sky set to break all records with a £300m bid for the UK rights to the tournament.
The current deal, with is shared between BBC and ITV in the UK, and by Virgin Media in Ireland, runs through the 2021 season, but the tendering process for the next deal is underway and it appears Sky are in the driving seat, despite reports just a month ago that the national unions would resist moving the competition away from free-to-air. That assertion held up the sale of a stake in the Six Nations to CVC, the investors in Premiership and Pro14 rugby, but now it appears this is no longer a stumbling block due to the size of Sky's offer.
ITV and BBC joined forces last time to outbid Sky but have been told joint bids will not be allowed this time out, and no reason has been given for this decision.
If successful, the move would take almost all international rugby off terrestrial television. Only the World Cup every four years would survive with November and summer internationals, as well as World Cup warm ups reportedly included in any potential deal with Sky.
The Heineken Cup, long been the least protected of rugby's jewels would ironically become one of the most accessible then with one game a week available on terrestrial, as well as the final.
How Ireland are affected by this report is as yet unclear, though it would appear that Sky's deal would at least attempt to include Irish rights as well. Contrary to popular belief, the Six Nations is not on the government protected list for live sporting events, though it must be available deferred.
Should the Six Nations go down this route, they will be set to double the amount of money they are currently bringing in from TV right, though are sure to lose millions of viewers. Six Nations games regularly attract five to ten million viewers in the UK. Almost 13 million watched the World Cup final last year, the most viewers for any sporting event in 2019.
For perspective, Sky's football viewing figures went up significantly last year with Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Manchester City in November coming in at the third-highest viewing figure since Sky began their Premier league broadcasts in 1992. Even then, the viewership for the game was only 3.36 million.
Needless to say, many were unhappy with this news today.
RIP Six Nations, if this comes to pass https://t.co/9hbSJbwTXP
— Andy McGeady (@andymcgeady) March 1, 2020
Will kill the game which is already struggling, in particular player participation
— Chris Trueman 🏴 (@Chris_Trues) February 29, 2020
A huge mistake once again based on money. It would be great if those in power could understand the currency of real inclusive value.
— howard thomas (@pantwood777) March 1, 2020