After the Six Nations admitted nothing was off the table – including big bags of cash – when it comes to negotiating the next TV deal for the tournament from 2022, Robin Davey says the pay back would be unacceptable. For every pound gained, there would be a future follower lost.
Surely not! Surely, the Six Nations chiefs are not going to succumb, they’re not going to take the money and say to hell with the general public.
For right now the very future of the ever-popular Six Nations tournament and its television rights are up for discussion.
The current contract to show the Six Nations live, which is shared between the BBC and ITV, runs out next year and it is being widely reported that moving to subscription only is a very real prospect.
Sky and Amazon are believed to be very interested – Sky now showing little rugby after losing Premiership rugby rights – and are prepared to offer something in the region of £300m per annum for the new contract.
And it appears that the Six Nations chiefs are seriously considering going over to pay TV for they have mysteriously refused a joint bid in the future which rules out the present sharing situation continuing.
It is highly unlikely the BBC or ITV could match an offer by Sky or Amazon on their own, so the future showing of the Six Nations on free-to-air television appears to be in serious jeopardy.
And that would be a grave mistake in my opinion. We all know the decline in popularity of cricket when their authorities decided to go over to satellite TV with figures drastically reduced and participation levels down as a result.
Viewing figures for the opening game of this season’s Six Nations between England and France were around the seven million mark, whereas Sky could only muster one million for their autumn international coverage.
The Six Nations is about more than a rugby tournament, it’s a way of life for many during the winter months, it’s a weekend away for lots of fans and it’s hugely popular across the board.
It has also been a lynchpin for many via television, for those unable to get to the matches, for those who like nothing more than settling down to watch the matches.
Many people in Wales, in particular, don’t have subscription channels. They simply can’t afford it in these difficult times, so the Six Nations becomes an even more important part of their lives.
Take if off free-to-air and you jeopardise the very future of the game, particularly at grass roots level which is already struggling against so many competing interests.
No surprises here. #SixNations moving to Pay TV was always on the cards once CVC got involved in the sport. The Six Nations should have been listed as a protected free-to-air sporting event like the Football & Rugby World Cup, Olympics, and Wimbledon is. pic.twitter.com/ma1Zyql5hn
— Jamie Phillips (@JNPhillips4) March 1, 2020
No-one is expecting the Six Nations chiefs to give it away and clearly a realistic price has to be paid for the service. And the home unions, in the main, plough the money back into the game.
But so much of it goes to the sport at elite level while there is a counter-argument that far too much goes on staff and the inflated numbers the unions employ.
It was revealed recently, for example, that the chief executive of the Scottish Rugby Union earns an enormous salary of over £900,000 a year while Twickenham has had to prune its staff numbers because it is heavily in debt.
Money is obviously vital, none more so than in Wales, where the regions struggle to compete with the far richer English and French clubs in Europe.
Unless they receive more they will be unable to recruit the top quality players who will instead choose to go to their wealthier rivals.
But the regions do often punch above their weight all the same and will continue to do so for it’s part of the Welsh psyche.
This whole subject is quite clearly coming down to a choice. Accept the money, have more chance of competing at pro level and maybe put more into the community game but lose a big chunk of viewers and participants.
Or, turn the really big money down but retain a high level of public interest and continue to produce players because they are able to watch and follow their heroes while growing up.
I know my preference. Don’t buy it, don’t sell rugby’s soul to the highest bidder.