The Six Nations is inviting bids from pay television when it starts talking about the deal that will replace the one it has with the BBC in 2018.There was an admission by the Six nations committee that there was no guarantee the tournament would remain available to all those who own a television set, and that it could go the way of Test cricket and Open golf.
The step is expected and has long been mooted. Three of the four home unions need the extra money with the Celts struggling to fund their professional teams in the Pro12. They already, along with the RFU, have a relationship with Sky which, having lost the rights to the Aviva Premiership, is the Pro 12’s principal broadcaster. Sky and the RFU have been partners for most of the professional era so it would not take much of a jump for the company to secure some,if not all, of the Six Nations rights.
A key question the unions have to ask is whether extra money in 2018 would offset the potential loss of support for the length of the contract because the television audience would be measured in six rather than seven figures.
The Six Nations could ensure at least one match every round was available to free-to-air television. but if rights were shared who would have the first pick? Lets face it, this year’s opening round would have been a scrap for the first match.
Some would like the tournament to move simply because the satellite broadcasters do rugby better than the Beeb-hardly a surprise because they get more practice,week-in,week-out.On the other hand it could kill the goose that is the Six Nations championship,and send the profile of the sport into a tail-spin.No matter how much money might be plonked on the table by any pretenders to the satellite throne, by the time the new deal comes into being it will not compensate for the reduction in exposure.