The 2015 RBS Six Nations will kick off this Friday evening amid the usual flurry of excitement, anticipation, daffodil-toting supporters and solemnly-epic BBC teaser ads. It’s that time of year again, and we couldn’t be happier.
On the pitch, this year’s tournament is likely to continue the pattern of recent seasons (in which respect a repeat of Ireland’s 2014 triumph would be most welcome) but away from the fans and the floodlights, there is more uncertainty around the future of the Six Nations than perhaps ever before.
Or at least, there is more uncertainty around how we are going to watch the Six Nations in the future. This state of affairs was triggered by tournament CEO John Feehan, who recently suggested that selling the TV rights to the world’s oldest international rugby tournament to a satellite broadcaster like Sky or BT Sport might just be the way to go.
Would it? As things stand, the Six Nations is broadcast in almost 190 countries and enjoys an annual TV audience of something like 120 million people. No other annual rugby championship even comes close, and only the Rugby World Cup – which takes place every four years – can claim to be on a par in terms of the TV numbers.
And of course, that’s what it’s all about. The Anglo-French carve-up of the European Champions Cup has brought into sharp focus the eye-watering amounts of money that satellite broadcasters are prepared to part with – Sky’s clinching of the British Open golf being another example – and no doubt the Six Nations committee are keen to grab a slice of the pie, for the betterment of the game as they will say.
Let’s hope they tread carefully. There’s not much point making a killing on TV rights if your TV audience suddenly shrinks. In other words, the best thing for the future of the Six Nations and the wider game of rugby is to have as many people as possible watching it – and right now, that means watching it on terrestrial TV.
Time will tell, as ever. In the meantime, come Friday night we’ll see once again what all the fuss is about; why the Six Nations is the most valuable brand in world rugby and why so many people want to watch it. Packed stadia with colourful , friendly supporters all happily mixing together. Away weekends in the likes of Paris, Rome, Cardiff and the all the craic that comes with the trip. The banter and guesswork of trying to figure out who’s fit, who will play, and where. A tournament that can be won by any of three, four, maybe even five teams.
But most of all, the incredible passion that the tournament generates. Rugby supporters in this part of the world have grown up watching the Six Nations; it’s our bread and butter; the one we really want to win, and our loyalty to our country, to our team, to the tournament itself, knows no bounds. You can’t put a price on that.
(Photo © www.inpho.ie)