The Six Nations Championship will remain on free-to-air television in Ireland following the finalisation of the ‘first partnership of its kind’ between the rugby tournament’s organisers, Virgin Media Television and RTÉ.
Under the terms of the agreement, from 2022 onwards, Virgin Media and RTÉ will share the rights to the Six Nations, after the latter lost the rights to the annual rugby union competition in 2015.
Since 2018, Virgin Media has carried the tournament, cashing out around €5 million per season for the contract, however, Six Nations Rugby confirmed it has initiated ‘joint long-form contract discussions’ between both broadcasters.
“I am delighted that we have agreed the principles of a unique three-party partnership with Virgin Media and RTÉ, and that they have chosen the Six Nations to build such a strong and compelling collaboration around all our competitions which will be to the benefit of our sport, our unions and of Rugby fans in Ireland,” noted Ben Morel, Chief Executive of Six Nations Rugby.
Following the sale of a 14.3% stake in Six Nations Rugby to Luxembourg-based private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, there had been fears that the tournament would be placed behind a paywall. However, the new tripartite agreement ensures that fans of the sport will be able to enjoy the action at no extra cost.
Mick McCaffrey, Head of News and Sport at Virgin Media Television, added: “Virgin Media Television are very excited about this historic agreement which guarantees that the Six Nations Men’s, Women’s and Under 20s competitions will continue to be available to Irish rugby fans on free-to-air television.
“The rapidly evolving sports landscape means it is by no means a given that world class sporting action remains on free-to-air television. This innovative collaboration is a really positive outcome for Irish rugby fans, for Irish broadcasting and for the continued growth and development of rugby across Ireland.”
As part of the deal, Virgin Media will screen games from the Women’s Six Nations and the Men’s Under-20s Championships for the first time, whilst some live games from the commercially branded Guinness Six Nations will make a return to RTÉ.
Furthermore, RTÉ is also expected to retain the radio rights to the Six Nations through the contract.
“This agreement represents a win for the Irish public as two broadcasters come together to deliver the Six Nations Tournaments free-to-air, to the widest possible audience in Ireland,” said Dee Forbes, Director-General, RTÉ.
“As competition increases from global players in the sports rights market, we are delighted to work locally with Virgin Media Television, with the aim of serving Irish audiences with fantastic Six Nations action. RTÉ has a long and proud history in showcasing Irish rugby and is delighted to work with Six Nations and the IRFU to continue to strengthen that tradition.”
Although the Six Nations is not listed on Ireland’s roster of sporting events reserved for free-to-air coverage, Virgin Media airs matches across its free-to-air channels, with the list set to be reviewed by the Irish government, as announced at the end of last year.