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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 21, 2010 @ 9:48 am

    Oval and Out – ‘fraid not

    Harry McGee

    Sorry, couldn’t resist the sad pun.

    We return to the row between the IRFU and Eamon Ryan.

    1. The Figures

    Here are the figures. The IRFU gets a total of €16 million at present each year for TV rights. €11 million of that comes from the Six Nations and €5 million from the Heineken Cup. The money comes from a pot shared between all six rugby unions.  This is where the IRFU gets its figure of a loss of €12 million. It says if Ryan changes the status, the whole edifice will fall down. The other rugby unions will say to the IRFU: go away. It will then be in such a weakened position that it will left with no option but to do deals with the terrestrial stations in Ireland, RTE, TV3 and TG4. The most that will be worth is €4 million to €5 million: €3 million for the Six Nations and €1 to €2 million for the Heinken Cup.

    Are the IRFU being up-front and straight-up?


    France has free-to-air for the Six Nations and the Heinken Cup final. Wales may also get that designation?

    Have the rest of the unions excluded them? Will they tell them to go way? No. Will they cut Ireland out of the deal? I just can’ see it happening.

    What the IRFU is presenting as fact is in fact the worst-case or doomsday scenario, when everybody else cuts all connections. It should be honest in telling us that won’t happen.

    The Heineken Cup was available free-to-air until 2006. And as Tom McGurk said yesterday, the sky did not fall in.

    2. Is Six Nations Free to Air?

    Technically, no. It’s designated as a deferred broadcast. Terrestrial TV audiences have no right to see our international games live. Those of us (most of us) who don’t subscribe to Sky Sports have ot wait an hour before we see it live.

    In reality, we see it live. That’s because the BBC and RTE won the rights for the UK and Ireland. That deal is good until 2013.

    So what’s the problem?

    This is the nub of the argument. The IRFU has tried to muddy the water by bringing the less lucrative Heineken Cup into the argument as the Six Nations is the real money-spinner.

    If the designation remains as it is (ie a deferred broadcast) the rugby unions can negotiate with Sky in 2013. So, if RTE wants to have the Six Nations it’s going to have to outbid Sky. It suits the IRFU to have the threat of Sky there, as it makes sue that the RTE bid will be ramped up. But don’t introduce a gun into the plot unless you intend to use it. The IRFU can’t claim that it too wants free-to-air if it is prepared to let Sky into the bidding. It would be ludicrous to say that Sky should be allowed bid but that the rights would be ultimately free to air.

    The reality is if Sky is allowed to bid in 2013 and if Sky wins the deal for the UK and Ireland, say, there will be nothing to stop it from taking those rights. That’s if the designation stays the same. If RTE wants to buy the Irish rights from Sky, you can be sure that it will have to pay through the nose.

    A free-to-air designation, as Ryan wants, won’t stop Sky from entering into a deal with the six rugby unions. It will result in it having to make Irish international games available to Irish audiences free-to-air. It can sell those rights to RTE or to TV3 at market rates. But not at the ransom prices if the designation stays the same.

    Simon Coveney of Fine Gael says that it will keep RTE honest. It will keep RTE hostage, more like.

    3. The Social Aspects

    Rugby is a commercial and professional sport in Ireland and needs to have as many revenue streams as it can to sustain its standards. And that includes cutting favourable TV deals.

    But it seems that the union wants to have its cake and eat it. There was a touch of arrogance about Philip Browne’s pronouncement that the Government had no right to designate what should be free-to-air and what shouldn’t.

    But the IRFU is not the only player. The weakness in its arguments is that it can’t guarantee that the Six Nations will remain free-to-air if the current arrangement continues.

    Should Irish rugby internationals in the Six Nations be available only to those who subscribe to Sky or should it be available to all. When sports goes to subscription,  it excludes the poor, the elderly, and children.

    It also leads to the socialy undesirable phenonmenon of kids being brought to pubs to watch games. The IRFU argument against this has been weak. It says that pubs are no longer drink-oriented but also serve food and teas and coffees. That is nonsense. The predominant ingestion in pubs during rugby games is alcohol, and lots of it in some cases. It’s not a suitable environment for a kid. The IRFU has not really addressed this. It says that Sky is available in clubs. But I’ll warrant that alcohol is served there too.

    4. The Personalisation

    Some of the language used at the IRFU press conference, and the personalisation of posters etc at the Leinster versus Munster game, were way over-the-top. One of the main characteristics of the IRFU argument has been emotionalism. At times it has bordered on hysteria!

    • Donal Conaty says:

      All good points but they don’t take away from the simple fact that Irish rugby is now hugely successful. Could anyone screw it up? Yes – the same people who screwed up the country when it was hugely successful. Do we really believe the Government knows what is best for rugby? Or anything else for that matter?

    • Pavement Trauma says:

      Re: France has free to air status and has not been excluded.

      French TV has ~36% of the total 6 Nation viewers, RTE have ~5% (see http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/third_paytv/responses/org/rfu/TV_Audience.pdf). Of course they are not going to get cut out of the loop.

    • Liam says:

      This should not be a political issue, the IRFU is not a semi-state and they should be free to make their own decisions. It’s a bit rich that the gov. is distracted by this “bread and circus” issue when there are more important issues at hand. If they are not spending every waking hour working on the €400m weekly deficit, I am not interested and the media shouldn’t be either.

    • Peter says:

      I’m still confused!! I jumped right onto the IRFU bandwagon initially. Now I don’t know if Eamon Ryan is just a populist vote grabber or if the IRFU are genuinely hedging against a pauper’s future!!! Ahhhhhh

    • Concubhar says:

      I have been gratly amused by the IRFU’s Chicken Little attitude to the free to air proposals of Minister Ryan. However there is another way to resolve this. We have two official languages in Ireland, English and An Ghaeilge. Let’s turn that anachronism to our benefit.
      If the Minister were to designate the disputed games in all codes as free to air with the proviso, in the pursuance of the long stated Government policy of support for the Irish language, that broadcasters availing of the designation to broadcast on the cheap the previously out of reach games to
      its viewers would do so with an Irish language commentary, those who wanted English language commentary could view the games in the pub via Sky or Setanta as before. My own
      interest in this that I would be able to watch the culturally important games in all codes but GAA matches in
      particular without having to resort to the device of muting the TV sound in order to accompany the TV pix with As Gaeilge commentary. Amazing that 14 years after the establishment of TG4, that live coverage of the All Ireland finals, soccer and rugby internationals, the Olympics and other events intrinsic to our culture aren’t available on the station. Some complain about compulsory Irish, What about a break for those who have to put up with compulsory English!

    • Harry, my personal preference is that I think that the Six Nations matches should be free to air but designating the Heineken cup matches would be a very big mistake.

      I can’t see RTE or TV3 spending €5 million Euro or even remotely like it for the Heineken Cup. Sky pay that big money because they will get an audience for the matches in the UK and elsewhere. If they are on RTE, I can’t see Sky bothering to broadcast them outside of Ireland. And we know that RTE won’t do that.

      Part of the issue is that there is a trickle-down effect in which the ERC matches generate money for the smaller clubs in the form of pub takings (there is nothing to stop the clubs having the match on a telly in a room separate to the bar for the children. but the fact is that the small ones rarely have the attention span to watch a sporting occasion for a few hours) It might not to the best thing in the world but it is a big slice of the club’s revenue especially with gates down so much in the AIL League.

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