Terrestrial television could be facing a battle to retain the Six Nations Rugby Championship after the present free-to-air deal expires in 2017, it was claimed today.
The event has long been a staple of the BBC’s winter sports broadcasting schedule but John Feehan, chief executive of the Six Nations, has hinted that tradition could be broken if the price was right.
The current four-year deal has been estimated to be worth £160 million to the rugby unions.
But today’s Daily Telegraph quotes Feehan, saying: “The championship has never been healthier, it is in great shape and our terrestrial broadcasters have been fantastic partners. But that being said, they, like anybody else, have to be kept honest.
“We have developed the greatest championship in world rugby and the reality is we need to ensure that we continue to generate revenues that can fund and develop the game within the northern hemisphere. The Six Nations is fundamental to that. Without the revenues that the Six Nations brings in, most of the home unions probably couldn’t survive.
“So the reality is that this is an extremely important revenue stream and broadcasting is an extremely important element of that revenue. So I don’t think it is good enough just to say we wouldn’t consider every option.”
A decade ago the tournament was briefly thrown into turmoil when England broke with collective bargaining rights to sign with Sky. The emergence of BT Sport as a credible rugby broadcaster and rival to existing channels has clearly created a stronger bargaining position for the Rugby Unions.