Owen Farrell expresses worry about Six Nations no longer being available on free television.
Owen Farrell is concerned that if the Six Nations moves to a pay-to-view model, it could be difficult for the sport to maintain its viewership.
The captain of the England team shared his worries the day after Barbara Slater, the BBC’s head of sport, cautioned the culture, media, and sport select committee that the company may not have the financial means to broadcast matches in the future.
Farrell stated at the unveiling of the 2023-24 Champions Cup that although it was the first time he had heard about it, he was aware of its existence from previous discussions. He admitted to not fully grasping the potential impact on rugby, the tournament, or the participating nations, and the potential increase in viewership. However, if the potential increase in viewership is significant, it could pose a challenge.
The rights to broadcast the Six Nations tournament are split between the BBC and ITV, but it is not considered a protected event. This means that it could potentially be sold to a subscription-based broadcaster. With the possibility of a new world league being created, the rights for the tournament may also be bundled with other events, making it difficult for the BBC to afford. Slater has acknowledged that it is unlikely they will be able to make the highest bid.
Farrell’s background in rugby was heavily influenced by his early exposure to the sport through watching it on TV as a child. He recalls eagerly anticipating Heineken Cup weekends during his school days, spending hours on end glued to the television. He admits to daydreaming about someday playing at prestigious stadiums like Thomond Park and Stade Marcel-Michelin, and his experience of actually doing so exceeded his expectations.
The Champions Cup is divided between free-to-air and subscription TV providers in England, France, and Ireland. According to Dominic McKay, the chairman of European Professional Club Rugby, our primary duty is to increase revenue and ensure that enough funds are reinvested into the clubs. However, it is essential to also prioritize partnerships with both pay TV and free-to-air broadcasters whenever possible.
We are able to share our story widely and attract new followers to the sport, thanks to that balance. At the same time, it allows us to generate significant income.
However, there are changes on the horizon. As with others in the industry, McKay envisions a future where online and social media streaming rights will hold the same value as traditional television rights. “In the past, it was clear that having a balance was beneficial in generating excitement for the sport,” he explained. “But times are changing.”
The Champions Cup has been redesigned, with four groups of six teams. Additionally, the Challenge Cup will now include a team from Georgia, known as the Black Lion, for the first time. The Cheetahs from Free State will also be participating with a home base in Amsterdam. Currently, Farrell is considering the possibility of facing the Bulls in Pretoria. “It’s a new challenge for us, but one that we are looking forward to,” stated the fly-half for Saracens. “I’m trying to adjust to the idea of playing in warm weather in December.”
Farrell is currently focused on discussions about the potential implementation of hybrid international contracts. These contracts would allow the England management to have more influence over players’ careers while they are with their clubs. “This is a noteworthy period with all that is on the horizon,” stated Farrell, who plays a key role in the behind-the-scenes talks and emphasized the players’ desire to have a substantial say in the design of the new contracts.
“As athletes, we return to the game without pausing to consider how the program should be strategically developed for our future,” stated Farrell. “However, we do have suggestions. The players are now unafraid to voice their opinions and express their thoughts.”