Live top level rugby on BBC Wales will end this season after the broadcaster opted not to meet the bidding price reached in rights negotiations with the Guinness Pro14. Robin Davey says the final whistle could soon be blown on all live rugby on free-to-air TV.
Rugby has become the latest sporting target for the string of pay-per-view companies which have sprung up.
Football, boxing, horse racing and cricket are front line sports which have ditched terrestrial television in favour of taking the big money on offer from satellite TV.
The BBC simply cannot compete on an equal footing, hence the bombshell news this week that they have lost the rights to show their prime-time Guinness Pro14 live matches after around two decades.
And they haven’t been beaten to the punch by a major broadcaster like Sky or BT, but a relatively new, pretty much unknown company believed to be Premier Sports.
It’s happened despite making what the corporation says is a considerably improved offer.
So, no Guinness Pro14 rugby on a Friday night on the BBC, nor on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon – either on the BBC or Sky or BT, though BT retains the contract to show European rugby next season.
BBC Wales still hold out some hope of showing a highlights programme, but that’s up for negotiation. So Sunday’s Scrum V highlights could be a casualty as well.
S4C say they are in talks about showing games while radio rights are subject to separate negotiations.
It all comes as a major shock to the average Welsh rugby fan, and probably Irish and Scottish too, used to watching their rugby on free-to-air TV, though that’s something of a misnomer because everyone has to pay the licence fee, unless over 75.
Many are understandably outraged that their favourite sport has been taken from them, unwilling or unable to pay all the extras demanded by the various satellite companies.
The downside is that the sport runs the risk of being marginalised because viewing figures prove that pay-per-view doesn’t come remotely close to terrestrial television for audience figures.
Cricket has suffered particularly badly and there is a fear that rugby will be similarly hit.
One the other hand, the game badly needs extra finance and nowhere is that more in evidence than rugby.
French rugby receives around £75m per season from their deal with Canal+ while England’s contract is worth an estimated £42m. Compare that with the Pro14 competition which receives around £16m, which was boosted by £5m from the introduction of two South African teams this season.
As a result, the gap between the Celtic nations and their rivals on the field has grown ever wider with the greater buying power of France and England.
Though the Scarlets are providing a notable exception and Munster, Leinster and Glasgow have done their bit, none can attract the type of player English and French clubs can buy.
Small wonder, then, that rugby is going down the same route as those other sports and taking the money.
It won’t end there, either, for already the BBC have had to combine with ITV to show the Six Nations tournament when they used to have exclusive rights.
What price that most prestigious of all rugby competitions going over to satellite television as well?
I reckon within five years there will be no rugby at all on terrestrial TV.
There will be a howl of protest from fans who already feel priced out of the game, with the ever increasing international ticket prices thrown in as well.
But it’s the way of the world. It will happen.