IRFU to warn Minister against listing Six Nations games

Making live coverage exclusive to terrestrial television could potentially ruin Irish rugby

CEO for the IRFU speaks on camera at the Irish Sports Council Funding for FAI, IRFU and GAA for 2015 in Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.

CEO for the IRFU speaks on camera at the Irish Sports Council Funding for FAI, IRFU and GAA for 2015 in Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.

 
IRFUAlex WhiteSix Nations

“We just need to be collectively very careful that we don’t destroy what we have,” warned Philip Browne, the union’s chief executive.

Irish rugby earned approximately €20 million from the 2015 Six Nations, €4 million in prize money for retaining their title the rest from TV rights.

The current media deal ends after 2017 with Six Nations chief executive John Feehan recently revealing their intention to include a satellite television option from 2018. Feehan also highlighted the damaging financial impact were the Irish government to force international rugby onto terrestrial television.

That would see England, Scotland and Wales unions excluding the IRFU from negotiations for a new broadcasting partnership. France games are already listed.

At present in Ireland the Six Nations is a B event which means deferred coverage must be available for terrestrial TV.

The IRFU are keen to maintain this status quo. “We’re free to air until the end of this contract that we’re in with BBC,” said Browne. “The fundamental issue I suppose is making sure that everyone understands the consequences of the government potentially interfering in the marketplace.

“We operate within an international environment, which is a very volatile environment. It’s a fairly delicately poised ecosystem that we exist within.

“We have two vast neighbours in France and England where the monies are significant and anything that damages our ability to compete in terms of revenues is going to have a significant impact on us,” Browne continued.

Second Captains

“The reality is if we lose a significant revenue stream, where do we cut back? Do we cut back in the professional players, the professional coaches and the quality of the people that we have here? Do we let our international players go?

‘Grassroots level’

“We obviously have to go and meet Alex White, who is the Minister with responsibility for this, and we will be doing that but I think it’s about making sure people understand there are consequences to the actions that are taken.

“The unintended consequence is that people are very interested in watching rugby because of our success and I fully understand that but if we can’t afford to be successful anymore will there be the same interest in watching? It’s a chicken and egg thing.”

A time frame for White’s decision on what sporting events are to be listed is expected after the upcoming meeting.

“We’ll be meeting him over the next couple of weeks,” Browne added. “Then we’ll know at that stage what the process is going to be. It’s premature for me to say anything really until we actually sit down and meet with the Minister.”

Browne, speaking at the Irish Sports Council’s announcement of €2.36 million investment in rugby for 2015, also insisted that the Pro12 must go through a period of stabilisation to enable growth following its television deal with Sky Sports.

“The fact of the matter is that we’re dealing with three tiny economies in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, one very large economy in Italy, where rugby is almost a negligible blip in terms of the sporting and the commercial consciousness, so we’re in a difficult commercial situation.

“We haven’t really tackled the UK market in any great scope besides bringing Sky on as a broadcaster. There is a lot of work in terms of building the brand and getting a little bit more consistency in terms of what we do because part of the history of the Celtic Rugby is that every two years it changes.

“We just got to stop that. We have got to have a period of stability to allow us to develop the brand and grow the competition.”

Negative impact

“There is no doubt that it is going to be more difficult than it was in the past but that’s the challenge we all have to step up to. The alternative was there was no European competition. That’s where we were. We knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into. This was the least worst option. We need to be competitive.”

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