The BBC has acknowledged that it may not have the financial means to continue broadcasting the Six Nations rugby tournament.
The outgoing director of sport for the BBC has cautioned members of parliament that the increasing expenses of broadcast rights and a decline in income may force the network to relinquish its share of the Six Nations.
During a hearing with the culture, media, and sport select committee, Barbara Slater stated that tough choices would need to be made due to the substantial increase in sports rights over the past ten years, coupled with a 30% decrease in the BBC’s income in real terms.
In the UK, the tournament has always been broadcasted for free, but it is not considered a protected event like the men’s and women’s World Cup, the Olympics, and Wimbledon.
Recent updates have indicated that rugby’s television broadcasting rights could potentially be packaged and sold as a whole in a proposed new global league, making it even more difficult for the BBC to obtain.
Slater acknowledged that the financial challenges faced by the corporation in regards to sports were becoming more evident. “In order to maintain our ability to obtain sports rights, it is imperative that the BBC remains well-funded,” she informed Members of Parliament.
In the UK, the value of sports rights has increased by over two times in the last ten years. However, the BBC’s income has actually decreased by 30% when adjusted for inflation. This has made it extremely challenging for the BBC to meet the demands of various governing bodies across a variety of sports.
When questioned by MP John Nicolson, she responded: “Regarding the Six Nations, we will need to determine if we can afford it at the time. It is challenging for the BBC to maintain all of our expenses with our current income. We most likely won’t place the highest bid, and it will be up to each governing body to decide how to balance viewership and earnings.”
When asked if there were concerns that the Six Nations and Rugby World Cup might no longer be shown on regular television, ITV sport director Niall Sloane stated that in previous deals, there has always been speculation, which may have been valid, that it could potentially be broadcast by a subscription-based provider.
According to the speaker, the situation is different for the Rugby World Cup as they have only made two agreements during his tenure at ITV. He believes that it is important for the game to expand, and having the Rugby World Cup available on free-to-air television is beneficial, although there is no assurance of this happening.
In the near future, Slater, who plans to leave the BBC in the spring, also advocated for the removal of the 3pm Saturday restriction on broadcasting football matches in the UK in order to televise women’s games.
“Our WSL audience during the Chelsea vs. Liverpool match on Saturday was record-breaking, and this was not a coincidence,” stated the speaker. “There is a logical explanation for this, as the Saturday afternoon time slot has proven to be successful. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to that. It would be fantastic to see all of football come together and continue to achieve this level of viewership.”