TV3 blasts RTÉ aside to take Six Nations from 2018
Four-year deal will cost station over €22m in another significant sports coup
Ireland captain Paul O’Connell lifts the Six Nations trophy at Murrayfield in March. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
The Six Nations Council has awarded the broadcast rights for the Six Nations Championship to TV3, starting with the 2018 tournament for a period of four years in a deal that is reputed to be worth in excess of €22 million. It represents a significant coup for the station.
TV3 prevailed in a “competitive tender process” to oust the current broadcast rights holders RTÉ, offering a superior financial package that the national station could not match. RTÉ will screen the 2016 and 2017 Six Nations before its contract comes to an end.
John Malone’s Liberty Global, which recently bought TV3, would have provided the station with the requisite monetary resources to chase the television rights of northern hemisphere rugby’s biggest tournament, following on directly from the station’s commercial success in broadcasting the recent Rugby World Cup, screening all 48 matches live.
Whatever about a debate over the relative merit of the technical and editorial content of the respective tenders, TV3 and RTÉ, a primary consideration will have been the financial package offered by the former believed to be between €5 million and €7 million per annum.
There is no disputing the viewership figures that TV3 pulled in during the Rugby World Cup. For Ireland’s pool victory over France the station managed a record-breaking 1.6 million viewers in total, the highest ratings ever achieved by the station.
Across pre-match, match and post-match analysis of Ireland v France on TV3, 1.69 million viewers tuned in; viewership figures at one point in the tournament exceeded 80 per cent of the available Irish television audience.
John Feehan, CEO of Six Nations Rugby said: “We are delighted to be working with TV3 on developing the interest in the Championship and to ultimately grow this wonderful competition in Ireland. TV3’s coverage of Rugby World Cup was very successful and we believe that they will inject new and exciting ideas in the broadcasting of the Six Nations Championship.
“I wish to acknowledge the excellent work and support of RTÉ in the coverage of the RBS Six Nations Championship over the years . . .”
Niall Cogley, TV3 Group’s director of broadcasting, said: “In the last two months, TV3 has been able to demonstrate its credentials as Ireland’s national commercial broadcaster with a refreshing and comprehensive presentation of all 48 games of Rugby World Cup 2015.
“We are grateful that the Six Nations unions, the federations and their executive team were sufficiently impressed by our recent work. We very much look forward to presenting rugby’s greatest championship into the foreseeable future and making TV3 the home of rugby in Ireland.”
TV3 was not in a position to outline plans for future rugby coverage and the possibility of bidding for the 2019 World Cup in Japan or looking into other rights opportunities involving Ireland.
The news is a devastating blow to RTÉ, whose live rugby television coverage has been gradually eroded from the time they lost the live rights to the Heineken Cup in 2007. While they will screen the 2016 and 2017 Six Nations – they also have the live broadcast rights for the Guinness series in 2016 and 2017 – the reaction in Montrose was one of extreme disappointment.
RTÉ’s group head of sport Ryle Nugent admitted: “This is extremely disappointing news for RTÉ. We have a long and proud tradition of showcasing the Six Nations and putting our heart and soul into our coverage.
“We want to assure the Irish public that every possible effort was made by RTÉ to retain these rights. As a public service broadcaster, RTÉ’s ambition has always been, and continues to be, to deliver the best possible viewer experience and to share moments of major national importance.
“We put forward the best possible bid within our means, while always mindful of the significant responsibilities attached to spending public funds.”
RTÉ will definitely bid for the 2019 World Cup and will use the funds that would have gone to pay for a successful bid for the Six Nations to compete for broadcast rights to other sporting events that will come up for renewal in the next few years, including rugby ones.
Minister for Communications Alex White expressed his satisfaction that the Six Nations will continue to be broadcast on free-to-air terrestrial television until 2021.
“The agreement announced today is a positive development, which will be warmly welcomed by rugby fans across the country.
“I will certainly take it into account when making my decision on the possible live designation of Ireland’s Six Nation ties in the longer term. I have been consulting with sporting bodies, broadcasters and the public on this issue, and I understand that the rugby authorities want to maintain free access to live TV coverage of Irish games in this championship.
“My role is to decide whether, in the long term, this is best done by designating the events or by leaving things as they are.”