What next for the Six Nations?
September 26, 2001
England celebrate with their 2001 Six Nations crown © Getty Images
Reports of the death of the Six Nations Championship as we know and love it are greatly exaggerated. This is the final year of the current television contract and, quite rightly, the Six Nations Committee is consulting all interested parties before making any recommendations for change.
The Unions, team managers, coaches, players, sponsors, media and supporters (through a specially commissioned MORI poll) all have the chance to have their say. The spectre of one game each weekend taking place on a Friday evening has indeed been raised and appears to have caused hysterical panic in some quarters. Calm down guys, it will never happen. We might even see a return to all matches being played on Saturdays because there is overwhelming evidence that Sunday matches are equally unpopular.
The problem, as always, is trying to maximise the television revenue. Now that the Championship has expanded to six nations there are three matches each weekend and that is simply too many for any one broadcaster. Even the BBC with its two terrestrial channels does not really want six hours of rugby on the same day.
If you stick to the traditional Saturday afternoon kick-offs you either have to regionalise coverage or spread the Championship over more weekends. The latter would be very popular with broadcasters but would enrage the professional clubs because they suffer enormously on international weekends.
The problem with regionalisation is that the total television audience is almost the same for two matches rather than one and the television companies will not pay twice. Now that all the national stadiums except Lansdowne Road have state of the art floodlighting Saturday evening rugby must come into the equation. That has the advantage of allowing the visiting supporters to continue to enjoy their international weekends in the traditional manner - they might see an evening game through a bit of a haze but they will still contribute ridiculous sums to the local economy - and still be back at work on Monday. With the one hour time difference in France and Italy it should also be possible to play back to back games in the afternoon. That might not be ideal for the television companies but raises the possibility of a shared contract. Two matches a weekend on terrestrial television and one on satellite/cable is the obvious compromise.
But there is certainly no need to panic. Alan Hosie and his committee are well aware that the Six Nations Championship is the jewel in the rugby crown. It pays for the professional and amateur games and they will proceed on the 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' principle. Expect a little fine tuning - it will probably move a little later in the season and be played over a total of seven weeks with no more than two consecutive weekends - but I am confident the tournament we all know and love will remain essentially the same for many years to come.
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John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh