Wales politics

Call to keep Six Nations rugby on free-to-air TV

Wales v Scotland in the 2014 Six Nations Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Six Nations matches are currently shown free to air by the BBC

Six Nations Rugby going behind a TV paywall would be "incredibly dangerous for the Welsh psyche", the minister responsible for sport has said.

Ken Skates told BBC Radio Wales there had to be a balance between profit and audience participation.

Tournament chief executive John Feehan told the Daily Telegraph he was prepared to consider all options when the current BBC deal runs out in 2017.

Sky Sports chief Barney Francis said pay-TV firms were investing in sport.

'Crown jewels'

Responding to a question about the possibility of the rights being sold to a pay-TV organisation, Mr Skates said: "I think it would be incredibly dangerous for the Welsh psyche.

"It's part of our culture to have the Six Nations for free - why put the tournament at risk in this way?"

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies also called for the games to remain on free-to-air TV, describing Six Nations rugby as "one of the crown jewels" of British sport.

"It would be a hammer blow to fans if the Six Nations were no longer available to the masses on terrestrial TV, and the chief executive of the Six Nations should consider the impact on grassroots sport of moving behind a paywall," he said.

'Sustainable future'

However, Barney Francis, managing director of Sky Sports, said that pay-TV companies such as his were investing in British sport and denied that they were to blame for any decline in grassroots participation.

"We're fooling ourselves if we think free-to-air coverage is a panacea to such a broad social issue," he wrote in The Daily Telegraph.

"On the contrary, reaching for a simplistic solution would not only fail to fix the problem, it would undermine the funding that is vital for a healthy and sustainable future for sport.

"Investment is what's needed to nurture inspiration and see that it endures."

Rob Wilson, a sports finance expert from Sheffield Hallam University, told BBC Radio Wales that while sports could gain "tens of millions of pounds" from selling rights to pay-TV, smaller audiences could hit their revenue from advertisers.

Broadcasting is not devolved, but Welsh ministers became involved in a similar debate in 2009.

At that time, then First Minister Rhodri Morgan urged the UK government to make sure Six Nations matches were always shown live on terrestrial TV.

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