The Six Nations Championship, the annual international rugby union competition involving six European countries, is one of the most popular and prestigious sporting events in the world. It attracts millions of viewers and fans across the globe, who enjoy the thrilling matches, the fierce rivalries, and the passion of the players and supporters. However, the future of the Six Nations on free-to-air TV is uncertain, as the current UK rights deal is due to expire in 2021, and there are rumours that pay TV operators such as Sky Sports are interested in bidding for the exclusive rights. This has sparked a debate among rugby fans, politicians, and broadcasters, who have different opinions on whether the Six Nations should remain on free-to-air TV or move to pay TV.
The case for free-to-air TV
Those who argue that the Six Nations should stay on free-to-air TV have several reasons to support their view. Some of the main arguments are:
- The Six Nations is a crown jewel of British sport. The Six Nations is widely regarded as one of the most important and prestigious sporting events in the UK, along with the FA Cup final, the Wimbledon tennis championships, and the Olympic Games. It has a long and rich history, dating back to 1883, and it showcases the best of British and Irish rugby talent. It is also a major source of national pride and identity, as the fans cheer on their home nations and celebrate their victories and commiserate their defeats. The Six Nations is more than just a sport, it is a cultural and social phenomenon that unites and divides the nations in equal measure.
- The Six Nations is a public good that should be accessible to all. The Six Nations is watched by millions of people every year, not only by hardcore rugby fans, but also by casual viewers, families, and children. It is a rare occasion when people from different backgrounds, ages, and regions can come together and enjoy a common interest. The Six Nations also inspires and educates the next generation of rugby players and fans, who can learn from the skills, tactics, and values of the sport. By keeping the Six Nations on free-to-air TV, the broadcasters ensure that the tournament is available to everyone, regardless of their income, location, or subscription status. This is especially important in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has limited the opportunities for people to watch live sport in stadiums or pubs.
- The Six Nations benefits from the quality and reach of free-to-air TV. The Six Nations is currently broadcast by the BBC and ITV, who have a long and successful track record of covering rugby and other sports. They have invested heavily in the production, commentary, analysis, and promotion of the Six Nations, and they have delivered high-quality and engaging coverage that appeals to a wide and diverse audience. They have also ensured that the Six Nations reaches as many people as possible, by broadcasting the matches on their main channels, online platforms, and radio stations. The BBC and ITV have also made a joint bid to retain the rights from 2022, which shows their commitment and confidence in the tournament.
The case for pay TV
Those who argue that the Six Nations should move to pay TV have different reasons to support their view. Some of the main arguments are:
- The Six Nations deserves a fair and competitive market value. The Six Nations is a valuable and attractive product, that generates a lot of interest and revenue for the rugby unions, the players, and the sponsors. The current UK rights deal is worth £90 million annually, which is significantly lower than the deals for other major rugby tournaments, such as the Rugby World Cup, the Rugby Championship, and the European Champions Cup. The pay TV operators, such as Sky Sports, have the financial resources and the willingness to offer a much higher bid for the exclusive rights, which could benefit the Six Nations and the rugby unions in terms of funding, investment, and development.
- The Six Nations would benefit from the innovation and expertise of pay TV. The pay TV operators, such as Sky Sports, have a proven and impressive record of covering rugby and other sports. They have invested heavily in the technology, talent, and features that enhance the viewing experience and satisfaction of the fans. They have also introduced new and innovative ways of presenting and analysing the sport, such as the Sky Sports Action Zone, the Sky Sports Player Cam, and the Sky Sports Fan Zone. They have also expanded the coverage and exposure of the sport, by broadcasting more matches, highlights, documentaries, and podcasts on their multiple channels and platforms.
- The Six Nations would not lose its popularity or appeal on pay TV. The pay TV operators, such as Sky Sports, have a large and loyal customer base, who are willing to pay for the premium and exclusive content that they offer. The Six Nations would not suffer from a significant drop in viewership or interest, as the fans who are passionate and dedicated to the sport would follow it wherever it goes. The pay TV operators would also attract new and casual fans, who are curious and intrigued by the sport, by offering attractive and flexible packages and deals. The pay TV operators would also work closely with the rugby unions and the broadcasters to ensure that the Six Nations remains accessible and visible to the wider public, by offering some matches or highlights on free-to-air TV or online platforms.
The debate over the future of the Six Nations on free-to-air TV or pay TV is complex and controversial, as there are valid and compelling arguments on both sides. The decision will ultimately depend on the outcome of the bidding process, the preferences of the rugby unions, and the feedback of the fans. Whatever the result, the Six Nations will remain one of the most popular and prestigious sporting events in the world, and a source of joy and excitement for millions of people.