Wednesday 25 April 2018

Selling out Six Nations to Sky would push oval ball to periphery

Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Michael McCarthy

A few years ago, there was a quickly rebuffed proposal by then Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan to make the Heineken Cup free to air in Ireland.

The IRFU and most of the media were horrified and quickly reminded the government to stay out of what they didn't understand.

While Ryan's idea was, I think, well meaning, it was misjudged.

Sky's money has been essential for rugby's growth in the professional era here.

There has to be limits, though, on how much we can reserve for the well-off and the hardcore fan.

Also in Minister Ryan's proposed legislation was the addition of the Six Nations to the list of protected events for free-to-air TV. This too, never came to pass.

With the admission last week by Six Nations chief executive John Feehan that they would consider a deal with Sky from the 2018 season, that lack of protection could mean an end to the great tournament on terrestrial TV.

While government protection is one thing, sporting governing bodies should be able to legislate for themselves here. It would be incredibly short sighted to give up their biggest events to pay-TV.

The Six Nations is a centrepiece of the sporting spring. Its ratings far outweigh any of Sky's output, including the Premier League games it goes up against.

Eight million people watched Wales and England last Friday night. It's estimated only about four million homes even have Sky Sports in the UK. Of every rugby game televised in 2013, the highest rated non-terrestrial game was the third Test between The Lions and Australia. It ranked as the 24th most watched game, even falling behind Wales v Tonga.

Real rugby fans will watch the games, initially. We'll pack the pubs, or we'll get Sky. The problem isn't these fans. They already now need two sports packages just to watch the Champions Cup.

The problem is the casual viewer. Moving your showcase events to Sky pushes the sport to the periphery, out of their gaze. Where do the new fans come from? Where do they get their inspiration?

Irish Independent

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