- World Rugby might move away from free-to-air broadcasting for its flagship tournaments post-2025.
- ITV has held broadcasting rights for the Rugby World Cup since 1991.
- The changing landscape of sports broadcasting with streaming services entering the fray is a key influencing factor.
- Alan Gilpin, World Rugby’s Chief Executive, suggests a balance between revenue and audience reach is crucial.
- Fans have expressed displeasure and concerns over this potential move on social media.
The Rugby World Cup’s long-standing tradition of being freely accessible to viewers in the UK could soon be a thing of the past. World Rugby, which has tied its broadcasting rights with ITV since 1991, is reportedly exploring new options for its next two flagship tournaments.
This shift could see both men’s and women’s rugby being taken off free-to-air channels. Alan Gilpin, Chief Executive of World Rugby, in an exclusive interview with the Telegraph, indicated that while the Women’s World Cup in England, in just two years, will remain free-to-air, there are no guarantees for subsequent editions.
The evolving landscape of sports broadcasting, with giants like Amazon Prime and Netflix entering the scene, has significantly influenced this potential change.
Legal Constraints and Market Dynamics
Presently, UK law mandates only the finals of rugby’s major tournaments to be broadcast free-to-air. This contrasts sharply with football, where the entire World Cup tournament is required to be on free channels. While World Rugby has previously turned down bids from the likes of Sky Sports, it appears the organization is now revisiting its stance.
Gilpin emphasized the importance of balancing audience reach with the revenues essential for investing back into the sport. The primary goal remains to make as much of the competition available to the largest possible audience, but financial considerations play an equally crucial role.
Future Plans and Backlash
The newly launched platform, RugbyPass TV, part of World Rugby’s in-house broadcasting initiative starting in 2025, could potentially develop into a comprehensive direct-to-consumer platform. Gilpin hinted at this possibility, suggesting they would look to fans for cues on when to start charging for content.
However, this potential move hasn’t been well-received by all. Rugby fans took to the recently renamed social media platform X (formerly Twitter) to express their displeasure. Many believe this move might alienate a significant portion of the fanbase, particularly those who do not wish to pay extra to watch the matches.