Put up, or shut up - RTÉ loses out to TV3 for rights to Six Nations
RTÉ has lost its bid to secure the broadcasting rights for the Six Nations, with TV3 flashing the cash with a rumoured offer of at least €10m.
In what came as a massive blow to the national broadcaster, TV3 has trounced its rival to nab the rights to screen all 20 Ireland games for four years, starting in 2018.
The station was recently taken over by UPC Ireland, now Virgin Media, in a deal worth about €80m. The Irish Independent can reveal that a top-level executive from Virgin, which is owned by Liberty Global, was spotted in TV3 earlier this week, ahead of the station winning the rights with a rumoured eight-figure bid.
"This is one company with very deep pockets and they were determined to be successful in their bid. They would have entered a seven-figure bid for the rights as it's such a guaranteed money-spinner. They know people will watch it," said a source.
"The Rugby World Cup did amazingly well for TV3. They pulled in record viewing figures and the level of advertising that it attracted was phenomenal. This deal is even bigger as it will run for four years and feature every single game. RTÉ's loss is truly TV3's gain."
For this year's Six Nations, RTÉ is understood to have secured the rights to Ireland's games for a figure of around €2.5m a year, down from the €3m it paid in previous years.
Meanwhile, Sky has appealed to the Government not to add the Six Nations to a designated free-to-air list.
The Department of Communications is carrying out a public consultation on the list, which currently includes the Summer Olympics and the All-Ireland football and hurling finals among other events, with a view to possibly adding the Six Nations.
However, in its submission to the department, Sky said: "Given that RTÉ and other terrestrial broadcasters have the resources to bid for non-listed sporting events in the open market, it is both unjustified and unnecessary to force sports bodies effectively to sell their rights to those terrestrial broadcasters by eliminating competition from pay TV broadcasters."
In its submission, RTÉ said many people who watch sport are unable to pay for it and "the majority of these viewers would be lost to sport without sport on free-to-air television".
Reacting to the news yesterday that TV3 has secured the rights for the Six Nations, RTÉ's group head of sport Ryle Nugent said it was "extremely disappointing" for the station.
"We have a long and proud tradition of showcasing the Six Nations and putting our heart and soul into our coverage," he said.
"We want to assure the Irish public that every possible effort was made by RTÉ to retain these rights. As a public service broadcaster, RTÉ's ambition has always been, and continues to be, to deliver the best possible viewer experience and to share moments of major national importance."
A TV3 spokeswoman declined to say how much the bid was, due to it being "commercially sensitive information". However, she did say that following on from the success of the Rugby World Cup, the station was determined to put in its best bid possible.
"It's swings and roundabouts when it comes to sport rights and we were lucky on this particular occasion," she said.