RFU keen to maintain balance

The Rugby Football Union is keen to maintain a balance in offering coverage of the England national rugby union team via free-to-air and pay-television platforms, according to chief executive Steve Brown.

Sky’s current five-year contract with the RFU began in the 2015-16 season and is due to expire in 2019-20. The deal accounts for £45.3m (€51.3m/$60.6m) of the RFU’s £184.9m annual revenue, according to the Daily Mail newspaper. Sky shows live coverage of the England national team’s autumn international home matches and the annual England spring fixture, as well as fixtures in the run-up to the quadrennial Rugby World Cup.

However, Brown said that the current arrangement regarding coverage of the annual Six Nations tournament is unlikely to change. At present, UK public-service broadcaster the BBC and commercial broadcaster ITV split coverage of the competition, which also features France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

“We’re not at renegotiation point yet but the prospects of it changing are slim,” Brown said. “At the moment, if the same proposition was there – maintaining free to air in the Six Nations – we’d have to look very seriously at whether we’d want to change that. The BBC and ITV hit nine million viewers for these games and yet we might see up to a million audience for paid-TV.”

Brown said that the body is trying to appeal “to a whole audience”, including those who “may be on the fringe of being interested in rugby… so I think it’s important that we maintain the balance of those two things.”