What is the worst possible move for rugby? What is the best way to highlight how little we care about fans? What is the quickest way to make money? You can imagine them all: the Six Nations executives, the CVC cashola boys, the RFU, Murdoch, all sat around debating these things. Well, it appears they’ve come up with the perfect answer to these trying questions – selling the rights for the Six Nations for £300m to Sky Sports.
Rugby’s oldest and grandest championship is going behind the paywall. Why? Because it’s going to make a small number of people a large amount of money.
This is as of yet unconfirmed, but reports emerging from the Rugby Paper suggest that Sky has this time secured the rights, after joint bids, like that from BBC and ITV which won out in 2016, were disqualified. There was no reasoning given for why they chose not to allow joint bids. I guess there’s no reasoning needed – this process is fundamentally unaccountable – and it’s not like those at the top care about what those at the bottom think anyway.
£300m. It’s a lot of money, but it’s not a lot of money to take away the Six Nations from the fans. If we ever needed any confirmation that modern sport is about money, then here it is.
My initial reaction to this news is fundamentally emotional, and visceral at that. It feels like betrayal, it feels sacrilegious. Now this is of course an overreaction, it is far from logical, but what does that matter? I pay to watch things all the time – Premier League football, Netflix, England at Twickenham – I sell my personal data to watch videos on YouTube, but the Six Nations? England versus Wales on TV? Jonathan Davies talking to Jeremy Guscott? Really? It is wrong, that is my reaction.
The Six Nations has always felt like proper rugby. Old school. There is something democratic, traditional, old fashioned about it. It is historic, that is why. England versus Scotland, France, Wales, Ireland – these are real, historic clashes, with roots that run centuries deep. Proper grievances, proper history at the root of these rivalries. It is also free, or it was, anyway. This is not the only reason the Six Nations has always felt different. Unlike the Autumn internationals, you never see teams wearing their change shirt purely for marketing reasons. It’s also sponsored by Guinness, rather than some silly investment firm.
It was instituted in 1883 as the Home Nations Championship. In 1910 it became the Five Nations, the Six Nations in 2000. Now, in 2020, it becomes the ‘sorry mate that’ll cost you £23 a month actually’ Championship. In all likelihood, for many, it’ll be the ‘jeez this stream is dreadful, I even can’t tell if that’s Farrell or Ford’ Championship. What a crying shame.
Written by a very frustrated Joe Ronan.