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Six Nations hoping to catch Springboks with lure of TV money

David Kelly


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Broadcast rights between the TV companies and Six Nations chiefs are, ironically, up for final negotiations just as the talks between CVC
and Six Nations reach their final stage. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Broadcast rights between the TV companies and Six Nations chiefs are, ironically, up for final negotiations just as the talks between CVC and Six Nations reach their final stage. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Broadcast rights between the TV companies and Six Nations chiefs are, ironically, up for final negotiations just as the talks between CVC and Six Nations reach their final stage. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

You may not have noticed that while the world's oldest and self-styled greatest rugby championship continued in three European capitals last weekend, one of the youngest was also marching doggedly towards its conclusion in another hemisphere.

Toyota Cheetahs v Isuzu Southern Kings in the PRO14? Anyone? Didn't think so. Not to worry; we won't tell you the result as there is a good chance it will be repeated several times a day on subscription this weekend in case you're desperate for a rugby fix.

At first glance, this game had nothing to do with this year's Six Nations but it does open a window to what the championship might look like in years to come.

Time, literally, is of the essence.

Time zones - where people want to watch their rugby and when they want to watch it - are crucial to the next tectonic shifts in the sport.

Time and, of course, money.

There were many people interested in Toyota Cheetahs versus Isuzu Southern Kings but naturally they weren't residing on the continent of Europe.

A crowd of 8,000 was a healthy enough attendance at the Toyota Stadium last Saturday but it was the steady stream of advertising in the ground and beyond it, and crucially the ongoing maintenance of healthy viewing figures on Supersport which were much more notable than the game itself, one the home side won in a canter, 45-0. (Oops, apologies).

From a sporting perspective, the two South African sides may offer nothing of interest to the wider fan but they offer what matters to those people who count - especially those people who count money.

And the more the pot is dwindling from the increasingly irrelevant Super Rugby competition, the more the money men will cast their gaze north from south of the equator.

The arrival of private equity firm CVC may not have changed any games yet but the injection of their vast finances is a game-changer - having parked a golden Trojan Horse behind the walls of the Premiership and PRO14, only the Six Nations remains left for them to conquer.

A final sticking point in a deal which is all about control and money (€300m) will not be solved until there is a final agreement on control and money.

The folks from CVC - who none of us will ever hear from or see - want to wrestle the TV rights from those who currently run the sport.

Broadcast rights between the TV companies and Six Nations chiefs are, ironically, up for final negotiations just as the talks between CVC and Six Nations reach their final stage. Only a fool would ignore the inextricable link between the two issues.

This is where South Africa comes into the conversation.

Just as the recently crowned world champions are eyeing a far more favourable outlet for their territory's vast passion for the sport, CVC are fluttering their hemlines in flattering overture.

If Six Nations does become Seven, CVC will need to ensure that they capture a strong South African audience on paid TV to recoup some of their investment, particularly if the rest of the competition remains on free-to-air TV.

South Africa will need to wriggle away from their commitments to the SANZAR TV deal which currently ties them to the Rugby Championship - which expires in five years' time - and the pressure from their Antipodean rivals to remain has already started.

It's not the first time the 'Boks have threatened to walk away but never before has there been so much money dangling on the end of a string to encourage them into a swifter pace.

Those who pontificate about the sanctity of the Six Nations forget that it is only 20 years since it was a Five Nations; there was once a time it was merely Four.

Tradition may have enormous value but that inevitably means it comes with a price.

Irish Independent