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Live Sports - Paywall vs Free To Air: Missing The Point

Last weekend, it was reported that the Six Nations is due to sign a multi-million pound rights deal with Sky TV, taking one of the premier events of the sporting calendar behind the fabled paywall.

As one would expect, some of the sentiment around this situation paints a very negative outlook on the future of Rugby Union. Tweets such as “this will kill the Six Nations“ and “RIP Rugby Union“ littered the comments below the original post from @TheRugbyPaper, citing the perceived death of Cricket following a similar deal in 2012. However this past summer’s celebration of cricket shows that interest in the sport has never been higher.

Whilst the on-field play of Messrs Stokes and Archer may have helped drive interest, one of the other major reasons for success has been the broadcaster’s ability to disseminate the content into digital and social platforms. The BBC’s decision to solely go after digital video rights (in conjunction with its audio deal) shows the value in driving incremental reach from these previously under-utilised platforms. Their in-play highlights combined with a daily wrap up piece called “Pint Sized TMS” gave viewers a vast amount of video content that told the story of that day’s play.

With younger demographics turning away from linear TV in their droves (or even never watching it in the first place) in favour of social media platforms, the need to create content suitable to reach them grows ever more important if the rights holder wants to engage with the next generation of cash spending fans.

This is the lesson that Rugby Union must heed. For younger audiences, it’s almost irrelevant as to which linear platform is showing the full game.... Where can they see the highlights and share them with their friends? Does a child need to see two hours of Ben Stokes or Owen Farrell to become a fan, or do 3 minute highlights clips tell them everything they need to know?

The digital and social content are crucial to broadcasters and right holders maximising the reach (and ultimately the value) of their events. As marketeers, we need to look at the total engagement across all platforms to truly identify the success and failure of these deals.

Will Sky be the death of the Six Nations? Judging by their social media startegy over the past few years, I think it’s highly unlikely. If anything, their digital expertise will push the sport to new audiences and ultimately generate huge benefits to both the Rights Holder and the viewing public, whatever their age.

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