17th February 2018, RDS Arena, Dublin, Ireland; Guinness Pro 14 Rugby, Leinster versus Scarlets; Practice balls ready for the players (Photo by Peter Fitzpatrick/Action Plus via Getty Images)

The BBC have seen their Guinness Pro14 live coverage axed following recent TV deal discussions. The Pro14 TV deal has been finalised, just not yet fully released to the public. It seems Premier Sports will take over the main coverage on a pay-to-view channel, rather than the accustomed FTA (free to air).

Last Word on Rugby’s Robert Rees takes a look at what this means for the Pro14 TV deal.

What does this mean for rugby on the BBC

They’ll still retain rights to NatWest Six Nations and the Autumn International matches crucially. But will lose all their Guinness Pro14 match coverage, .

This comes following recent discussions that saw the BBC increase their current deal, which from BBC Wales is worth around £4.5m. S4C are still in negotiations as to what they will be able to broadcast.

The ‘Beeb’ still hold the right’s for the Principality Premiership and so there could be extra outreach there. BBC could now do a highlights show on grass roots rugby mainly covering the Premiership and Championship in terms of TV highlights, but with an emphasis on all things within community rugby.

A round-up on the East, West and North division results alongside a feature, similar to that utilised a lot by Rick O’Shea on Scrum V. This could also discuss hard topics within the grass roots game if time allows/in weeks with less fixtures.

This has been widely expressed and will likely come down to how viable it is with viewing figures.

Why is this a good thing?

Well, to see why FTA TV costs the 14 teams money you just have to look towards England and France. England take in £42m a year whilst France are at a whopping £75m a year from their respective broadcast deals.

The Pro14 TV deal is lagging down at £10m. This figure needs to rise significantly if the 14 teams within the league are to close that gap to France and England. From a Welsh perspective this’ll mean the four Regions get increased investment, something they have been in need of for a while.

This could also be an opportunity for attendances to rise. Partly due to less fans sitting at home watching the game free of charge. Secondly, clubs/Regions/provinces could use this as a chance to engage with the youth community.

We’re all aware that there are lots of hobbies and other activities to do in a child’s life, but with no rugby being placed in front of their faces on a TV screen there is an opportunity to hand out free tickets to children.

This might sound like business madness, but a free child attendance brings a paying adult, typically more is spent on a child and they then become a lifetime supporter, hopefully.

However, for this to work tickets need to be handed out for games that are child friendly kick off times. 7.15pm on a Saturday night is no good for taking your eight year old. Saturday 2.30pm kick offs are ideal, or even a 5.30pm.

How much money is it to watch Pro14 on Premier Sports?

The subscription to Premier Sports is around £10 a month, £120 a year. Significantly cheaper than their rivals mind you. [PS are operated by the Luxembourg-registered Premier Media, it’s a subscription sports channel which has been running since 2009].

For those currently on a Sky subscription, they are cutting their rugby coverage from next year and so providing you don’t rely on Sky Sports for any other sports you can save yourself £30.

However, for some this is still another an added cost and they may lose out on their ‘rugby fix’. Especially for those in a situation where getting to games is either geographically or financially not viable. This does mean that wider audience appeal will be lost, and this could have a negative output on rugby’s growth, in Wales especially at risk.

On the plus side–for fans of American Ice Hockey. it’s good news. Premier Sports regularly show the NHL.

Is the Pro14 TV deal a financial gain or loss?

Despite the increased TV income the deal shall bring to the teams participating within the competition there has been a concern over whether it’ll effect other income sources indirectly.

The lack of FTA television means that the audience is likely to become smaller. This could be disastrous in terms of attracting businesses to sponsor the teams. A major company is unlikely to sponsor a team that plays in front of a decreased audience, therefore their financial input is also likely to decrease.

So the increased TV funds will hopefully avoid being neutralised by a decrease in sponsorship/general interest being generated.

A pay-per-view Guinness Pro14 TV deal can work

Enough supporters will subscribe to Premier providing the fixtures are savoury and aplenty. If the broadcaster chooses poor times then fans will not pay the fee to watch any side play. If Premier can produce a high quality fixture list week in, week out then they are at least in with a chance of gaining subscribers.

Presentation is key. The BBC has taken plenty of flack for their ‘Chum V’ show, lacking in analytical presence with the exception of a few. The BBC also lacked pre and post match coverage. Often going on air just five minutes before kick off, barely enough time to announce the teams.

The BBC may still have an option to produce a weekly highlight show; like Scrum V, that remains to be seen. The ball is now in their court, but those would only be delivered after Premier showed each match. Premier now hold the ball.

This will be key in raising interest in rugby from within Wales. In order to do this, Rugby coverage will have to have more analysis. Less chummy discussion where no blame is portioned. A quality production that cover highlights of all Pro14 games and the hopefully the regions gain in coverage as a by-product.

 

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