‘Six Nations paywall is inevitable’ – Donal Lenihan

Former Ireland international Donal Lenihan believes its is “inevitable” that the Six Nations Championship will eventually go behind a paywall.

Private equity firm CVC Capital Partners have recently acquired 14.5% of commercial rights for the Six Nations, in a deal reported to be worth €408 million to the six unions.

CVC have previously invested in the Formula One, and have been accused of trying to extract as much money as possible out of the motor sport, with little regard to it’s long-term future.

Lenihan, who toured with the British and Irish Lions in 1983 and 1989, fears a similar fate may befall rugby, and that it is only a matter of time before Europe’s flagship tournament becomes unavailable to viewers unwilling to pay.

“The most immediate challenge facing the home unions and CVC is in balancing their diverse interests.

“With the lucrative broadcasting rights for the Six Nations set to be renegotiated before the conclusion of this season’s tournament in March, CVC will be chasing a substantial increase in the revenues generated by going down the subscription route.

“This means the likes of Sky Sports, BT Sport, and new platforms like Amazon entering a bidding war, sending rugby’s biggest tournament behind a paywall. It’s inevitable.

“In doing so, the unions will have to assess what long-term damage this will inflict, as making the championship subscription-based will inevitably massively reduce viewership figures over the next four years.

“That is exactly what happened when cricket and Formula One went down this route and had a detrimental impact on the playing numbers attracted to cricket as fewer young kids were exposed to watching the sport growing up,” Lenihan wrote in the Irish Examiner.

‘Rugby will be forced into taking the big bucks’

Rugby union’s across the world are currently struggling financially due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, with the IRFU receiving an €18 million emergency fund from the Irish government back in November.

That emergency fund still comes well short of making up for the record €35.7 million deficit the IRFU posted last year, meaning unions had little choice but to turn to private investment to stay afloat.

“The current climate means rugby will be forced into taking the big bucks from the satellite platforms, not least to satisfy the commercial interests of their new partners.

“A compromise of sorts can be accommodated whereby each individual country can retain a minimum number of games on terrestrial television, be it RTÉ or Virgin Media in Ireland’s case.

“Hopefully, by the time the 2022 Six Nations tournament comes around, watching sports live in the flesh will be an option once again, if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a ticket.

“Without access to the games on terrestrial television, the viewing options are about to shrink even further,” Lenihan commented.

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