‘Losing the Six Nations on free-to-air TV would be like losing the All-Ireland finals’

Campaign has begun to change legislation and protect Six Nations from going behind pay-wall.

Could Six Nations be lost on free to air TV?
Could Six Nations be lost on free to air TV?
Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

MINISTER OF SPORT, Brendan Griffin, will be lobbied by Fine Gael and Fianna Fail TDs today to introduce legislation that protects the Six Nations from going behind a pay-wall.

The current TV rights deal for the tournament ends in 2022 and it is already clear that Sky are willing to bid in excess of €300m to gain exclusive broadcasting rights for the competition. The Times reported that Amazon are also considering entering the process.

If either of those organisations – or indeed BT Sport – are successful with their bids, then Irish fans will have to pay to a subscription channel to watch Ireland’s Six Nations games live from 2022 onwards. 

Under EU law, member states can designate certain sporting events ‘as being of major importance to society’ which must be screened live ‘on a free-to-air television service’. The Minister of Sport reviews the list of designated events every three years – with the last review coming back in 2017.

Bizarrely – and no one fully knows the reason why – the Six Nations is not one of the 11 events protected. Therefore if there is not a change in legislation before the bidding war is concluded then Ireland’s Six Nations matches will go behind a pay-wall if Sky, BT Sport or Amazon win the process.

However, leading cross-party TDs are leading the campaign for legislative change. Fergus O’Dowd, the chairperson of the Oireachtas committee on transport, tourism and sport, told The42 that he will be raising the issue with Sports Minister, Brendan Griffin today. “I will be lobbying strongly on this,” O’Dowd said. “What we have at the minute is something that is inclusive, to those who are rugby aficionados and those who are general sporting fans, who tune in winter after winter. These are the matches that attract young people to take up the sport.

The last thing we want is to see these games taken away from the public. Losing the Six Nations on free-to-air TV would be like losing the All-Ireland finals. If we can change the legislation, we should do so.”

They can. Under EU law, protected sporting events can be changed by the Minister for sport every three years, 2017 the year when the last list was drawn up.

fergus-odowd-arrives Fergus O'Dowd, chair of the Oireachtas committee on sport. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

That time the following events were protected –  the All Ireland Senior Ladies football final, All-Ireland camogie final, summer Olympic Games, All-Ireland SFC and SHC finals, Ireland’s World Cup and Euro qualifiers and tournament matches, Ireland’s games in the Rugby World Cup finals, Irish Grand National, Irish Derby and the Nations Cup at the Dublin Horse Show.

However, Ireland’s Six Nations games were on the deferred list, meaning they could be viewed in their entirety but not live.

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The reason this has not been an issue up until now is down to the fact that Virgin Media, BBC and ITV won the last bidding war.

Marc McSharry, the Fianna Fail spokesperson for transport, tourism and sport, insisted that he too would be campaigning strongly for legislative change. “This has to be examined urgently,” McSharry said. “This is our national team and this is the oldest rugby tournament in the world.

“We will be exploring ways to ensure the Six Nations is kept on free to air TV.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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