RTÉ and Virgin Media could lose Six Nations to Sky or BT Sport

Negotiations on new TV rights deal up for grabs now but industry source dismisses story as ‘scaremongering’.

Virgin Media and RTÉ could lose the rights to Sky.
Virgin Media and RTÉ could lose the rights to Sky.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE SIX NATIONS championship could be brought off free-to-air television in Ireland. Earlier this morning, organisers of the competition issued a statement that refused to ‘rule out anything at this stage’.

The biggest problem currently facing RTÉ and Virgin Media is the fact that the Six Nations is not guaranteed to be broadcast live on free to air TV.

Instead, just deferred coverage of Six Nations matches is protected by state legislation, leaving rugby fans vulnerable to losing the right to watch Ireland’s matches live on a non-satellite channel.

Currently the protected programmes on Irish free-to-air TV are:

1: The Summer Olympics

2: The All-Ireland Senior Inter-County Football and Hurling Finals

3: Ireland’s home and away qualifying games in the European Football Championship and the FIFA World Cup Tournaments Ireland’s games in the European Football Championship Finals Tournament and the FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament

4: The opening games, the semi-finals and final of the European Football Championship Finals and the FIFA World Cup Finals Tournament

5: Ireland’s games in the Rugby World Cup Finals Tournament

6: The Irish Grand National and the Irish Derby

7: The Nations Cup at the Dublin Horse Show

8: The All-Ireland Ladies Gaelic Football Final The All-Ireland Ladies Camogie Final

In contrast, the Six Nations is on a deferred list. In other words, the games can be broadcast but not live.

In a statement issued this morning, the Six Nations said: “Six Nations are in the process of seeking bids for various sets of media rights but these are not due for some time.

“All of this is highly premature and speculative as no proposals have yet been received by any interested party.

We would not rule anything out at this stage and the unions will collectively review and make a decision based on the nature of the offers received.”

The key phrase there is that nothing would be ‘ruled out’ after their present deal ends in 2022.

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This has all come to a head since CVC, the private-equity firm, started trying to muscle into rugby, and gain a financial holding in the Six Nations. CVC are in the money-making business. Rugby will make more money from going off free-to-air.

RTÉ said today: “No rights will come to the Irish market until the UK deal is concluded. RTÉ has no view until that happens.” Nor has Virgin Media who declined to comment.

However, an industry source believes the story was leaked deliberately to try and get TV companies to bid more.

“This is a scare story, saying Sky are going to come in and bid £300m for the tournament.

“They are hoping to get BBC, ITV and to a lesser extent, RTÉ and Virgin Media to up their bids.

“It’s a way of getting more money out of everyone because the fact remains very few sporting programmes are free-to-air anymore. I wouldn’t dismiss the story [which appeared in the Rugby Paper] as a flier, per se, but I would say it is a tactical move.

“There is one way to stop it – and that is to change the legislation and make sure Ireland’s Six Nations games are broadcast free to air.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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