The Six Nations may consider offers from UK pay-television broadcasters for its next rights deal, according to the annual national team rugby union championship’s chief executive, John Feehan.
UK public-service broadcaster the BBC currently holds the rights to the Six Nations under a four-year deal running from 2014 to 2017 which was signed in 2011. Irish public-service broadcaster RTÉ renewed its rights for the same four-year period in a deal struck in 2012.
However, Feehan told the Telegraph newspaper that he is prepared to consider all options for the next agreement, given how critical the revenue generated by the championship is to the ‘home unions.’
He said: “The championship has never been healthier, it is in great shape and our terrestrial broadcasters have been fantastic partners. But that being said, they, like anybody else, have to be kept honest.
“We have developed the greatest championship in world rugby and the reality is we need to ensure that we continue to generate revenues that can fund and develop the game within the northern hemisphere. The Six Nations is fundamental to that. Without the revenues that the Six Nations brings in, most of the home unions probably couldn’t survive.
“So the reality is that this is an extremely important revenue stream and broadcasting is an extremely important element of that revenue. So I don’t think it is good enough just to say we wouldn’t consider every option.
“Clearly it has worked extremely well on free-to-air terrestrial and clearly they continue to be interested in going forward and we will engage very strongly with them. But it is an open market place and we need to keep that in mind.”
The Six Nations is currently listed as a Category B event on the ‘crown jewels’ list of protected sporting events in the UK. This means that it can be broadcast on pay-television provided there is enough secondary coverage on free-to-air television.
“As it (the Six Nations) is B-listed, even though it might be live on a pay operator, it would also be shown very shortly after the final whistle on delayed coverage on terrestrial, free-to-air anyway,” Feehan added. “So it is not like it would be off the screen or anything like that.
“There are still three years left on this existing contract but there is an ebb and flow. We talk to all the broadcasters all the time so it is not a case of just pitching up one day and saying: ‘Hey boys, we are ready for sale.’ It doesn't work like that.
“It is an ongoing negotiation and discussion and sometimes that is brought to a head and sometimes it is not. We will pick the right time when we believe it is the best time to go to market.”
In other news, Italian state broadcaster Rai has agreed a two-year deal for rights to the Under-20 Six Nations tournament.
Under the deal with the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR), Rai Sport will cover all games of the Italian national team during the 2015 and 2016 events.