Putting the Six Nations behind a paywall will endanger Welsh culture and identity, politicians have warned.
Yesterday the competition’s organisers refused to rule out the possibility of the competition going behind a £300m paywall in 2022 after the next television rights bids are lodged this month.
The Rugby Paper said Sky Sports had become favourites to land a deal worth £300m and bring the Six Nations off terrestrial television “until 2024 at the earliest”.
Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price AM and Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader Liz Saville Roberts MP have written to the Westminster Secretary of State for Digital, Culture and Media, Oliver Dowden, demanding the Six Nations continue as “free to air”.
They said that to move the games beyond a paywall would be “nothing short of disastrous” for rugby in Wales as not everyone could afford a satellite subscription.
They added that the six nations and rugby is “an integral part of Welsh culture and identity” and that Welsh people would soon be “priced out of their own culture” – adding that it was “bitterly ironic” the reports came to light on St David’s Day.
They called on Oliver Dowden to utilise his powers as the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and list the Six Nations games as a “Group A” event, which under the Broadcasting Act 1996, would require the even to remain on free to air TV.
Group A events, which require full live coverage to be offered on free to air TV, currently include the FA Cup Final, the Grand National and the Olympic Games.
Labour Assembly Members have also written to the Welsh Rugby Union to ask them to do whatever they can to ensure that the Six Nations remains free for everyone to watch.
Six Nations matches have been on terrestrial television since England’s home games were shown exclusively on Sky from 1997 to 2000. They are currently free to watch after a joint bid by BBC and ITV.
However, no joint bids are being allowed in the next round of negotiations.
“By ruling out any joint bids it’s almost as if the Six Nations are clearing the way for Sky,” the Rugby Paper quotes an industry source as saying. “There is a very real danger that they will be prepared to sacrifice the big audiences on BBC and ITV for more money.”
‘Not for sale’
Writing to Oliver Dowden MP, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Adam Price and Liz Saville Roberts said:
“For these iconic games to move beyond a paywall would be nothing short of disastrous for rugby in Wales.
“There are many in Wales who cannot afford satellite television and watching the games in a pub is not always accessible to everyone.
“Both the Six Nations and the game of rugby itself is an integral part of Welsh culture and identity. It is bitterly ironic that as we celebrate St David’s Day – the patron saint of Wales, and take pride in all the little things that make us proud to be Welsh, we discover that we may soon be priced out of our own culture.
“We, therefore, call upon you to utilise your powers as the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and list the Six Nations Games as part of “Group A” – a guaranteed free to air event if a paywall is imposed.
“This must be applied to all Welsh games because of the particular place of rugby in our national culture. We stand firm in our belief that Welsh rugby is not for sale and that it belong to everyone in Wales.”