When the Six Nations sold a stake of the competition's commercial rights to private equity firm CVC ahead of this year's Championship, it was feared it could mean an end to the annual rugby extravaganza on terrestrial television. After all, CVC invested over €400m into the Six Nations and their track record would suggest a big TV rights deal would be their most likely avenue for a return on that investment.
The current TV deals for the Six Nations expired after this year's competition, and the negotiations for 2022 on are currently ongoing. The most recent deal saw Virgin Media as the sole rights holders in Ireland, while BBC and ITV shared the games in the UK, France 2 and DMAX have the rights in France, while S4C showed games in Wales. Amazon are said to be among the main contenders to take at least some of the exclusive rights of the competition.
However, confirmation has arrived this morning from RTE that any paywall restricted viewing won't affect the Irish market, at least. RTE and Virgin Media have reached a deal with the Six Nations to broadcast the tournament in the next deal. The agreement has been made in principle.
#Rugby’s #SixNations to remain live on free-to-air TV in #Ireland after #RTÉ, Virgin & Six Nations rugby agree deal, in principle, to share all games. Win for Ireland with games available to biggest possible audience.
— Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon) May 10, 2021
Virgin are set to show Women's Six Nations games and U20 fixtures for the first time under the agreement.
RTE haven't broadcast the tournament since losing it to Virgin after the 2017 Six Nations. Virgin's four year deal with seen as a success and it'll be interesting to see how the rights are divided up when the minutiae of the deal is revealed.
All in all, this is very positive news for rugby fans in Ireland, and for Irish sport. There was a real fear if the Six Nations disappeared behind a paywall that its unique place on the Irish sporting calendar would disappear and interest would wane, with only the hardcore fan catered for.