S4C could miss out on Six Nations matches as the competition looks set to go behind a paywall.
A deal with investment company CVC Capital partners worth £365m has created uncertainty about the ability of the Welsh language TV channel to broadcast games in the future.
The firm is acquiring 14.5 per cent of the competition’s commercial rights, which would mean that Welsh rugby would receive £50m as a result of the five-year agreement. It will play a big role in the negotiations over the next broadcast rights deal for the Six Nations.
The competition has always been free to air but that looks like it is going to change as the deal which enables S4C to broadcast the games and sees coverage shared between the BBC and ITV, ends this year.
The UK government rejected calls for the Championship to be added to the Category A list of sporting events that must be available free to air last year.
This means it doesn’t have so called protected “crown jewel” status unlike the World Cup in rugby and football, the Olympics, the FA Cup, Wimbledon and the Grand National, and therefore there is nothing to prevent it from going on to subscription channels from 2022.
It is understood that the likeliest outcome would be a mix of terrestrial and Pay TV, and it remains to be seen whether S4C would be able to continue to provide coverage of all of Wales’ games, as is the case now.
But there could be a limit on the number of games going behind a paywall as part of the agreement. Some of the contenders are thought to be Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon Prime.
A leading figure in Welsh rugby told Wales Online what he thought the CVC strategy would be: “They were only interested in coming on board if there was a paywall option, as that’s where they will make their money,” he said.
“The negotiations were delayed while the UK government considered whether the Six Nations should be enhanced to crown jewels status.
“With that rejected, the CVC investment has been able to go ahead.
“There is no way they would have contemplated doing the deal if there weren’t paywall possibilities.
“They are incentived to drive revenue because they will get a percentage of commercial income moving forward. So that means pay TV.
“CVC will have a major influence on the negotiations for the next TV deal. If you are not going to draw on their expertise, why would you have them there?
“Similarly, why would the Six Nations bring them on board and sell forward a chunk of their income if they didn’t believe doing so would drive revenue up?”