Thank you for everything Sky, but it’s time to step up your game. Since 2014 Sky Sports have been broadcasting live Guinness Pro12 games across the UK for all to enjoy, with excellent analysis from the likes of Rory Lawson and Scott Quinnell, amongst others.
With Guinness having recently signed on for another four years as headline sponsors, the league is looking in a safe place for the meantime.
Despite lots of speculation about where it’s future lies, Guinness wouldn’t have signed a four year deal, double then length of the current one, unless they were confident in the direction and future of the league. (A cynic might say that if the league unravels it’s lots of free publicity to Guinness, but I don’t buy that!)
So with that in mind, what does Sky Sports need to do to help improve the product on display to fans?
Although this opinion may not be popular, I personally want to see exclusivity with a single, subscription based broadcaster, such as Sky.
First of all, it makes it easier for fans in other countries to watch. For example, a fan in Scotland may have an interest in a game between Scarlets and Connacht. At present, if this game was on the terrestrial channels, it’s exceedingly difficult for the fan to see that game, unless they find a stream online.
Now you could argue that there wouldn’t be sufficient numbers to justify broadcasting on the scale that Sky do and that terrestrial channels are better. We can only speculate whether or not that would be the case.
I personally have BT Sport, and as much as I’m Bristol born and a Glasgow Warriors fan, I will watch literally any rugby game, whether it’s Saracens vs Exeter Chiefs or Sale vs Newcastle. If there’s little on the telly, rugby fans may well tune in, even if it’s only on in the background.
Another bonus is that if the fans have to pay for a Sky Sports subscription, there’s a stronger incentive at play and it could potentially have a positive effect on viewing figures. If you’re paying for it- you’ll make the most of it.
THE COST TO THE FAN AND CROWD EFFECT
I want rugby to grow and to be accessible for all. At the same time, I don’t want the Pro12 to financially fall behind the Aviva Premiership and Top14 any further. The ideal would be that it’s free to air for all and all of the leagues are on a level financial playing field.
By having exclusive rights, Sky would have to hand over a larger sum of cash and would in theory receive more in subscriptions to their service. According to a Rugby World article last year, an average Pro12 round pulls in “about 500,000 viewers” at present- but a fair portion of those will be on terrestrial. If Sky can improve the product, they may well change to Sky- that or get down to the grounds.
Furthermore, for those mainly concerned with their own team, it may produce more of an incentive to get to the stadium. With the free-to-air option taken away and the price of Sky Sports, fans may be encouraged to go to the grounds to see the games, as opposed to sitting at home watching them.
That’s not an absolute certainty, but it is a theory that many people spout on social media- it can cause a lot of debate, but it’s worth mentioning as a possibility.
Sadly I have no idea on the actual numbers, but the theory behind it seems fairly good- I would like to hear thoughts or see any numbers if anyone has any.
MORE GAMES PLEASE
Of course the elephant in the room here is the fact that no-one in their right minds would pay for Guinness Pro12 rugby alone on Sky Sports right now. Put simply, there aren’t enough games to justify the hefty price tag at present, with there often being no more than one game on show each week.
More games need showing to justify paying for Sky Sports.
THE HIGHLIGHTS SHOW
For those of you lucky enough to have BT Sport, you will know just how good they are when it comes to giving you a round up of the weekend’s best action. Scrum V in Wales isn’t bad, but I don’t think it quite compares with Rugby Tonight.
Each week BT Sport air ‘Rugby Tonight’- a show dedicated to the Aviva Premiership. They have special features on the teams, game analysis for both international and club games, they run through tactics and moves to explain to to the fans what is happening and why. Then they have the novelties such as the ‘smash-o-meter’ where fans and guests get a hit on a tackle pad ‘measured’ to see who hits the hardest.
For your casual rugby fan or your uber-nerd, this is a good watch. Failing that, ITV 4 showing the match highlights at least gives fans a chance to catch up, instead of having to trawl through the Pro12 YouTube channel to watch all of the highlights.
I ran a poll on Twitter to see what people want to see from Sky Sports to improve their Guinness Pro12 coverage and the message was clear- more games and a highlight show.
OPINIONS ON THE CONTRARY
Interestingly today I read a piece on Pundit Arena arguing for Rugby to be shown on free-to-air TV to help the growth of the game globally. The argument certainly holds merit in the rest of the world where rugby is a minority sport, but when the Pro12 is so financially behind the Top14 and Aviva Premiership, who both have lucrative deals with subscription based broadcasters, I don’t see this as the way forward for the Pro12.
If all Rugby could be on free-to-air TV that would be the ideal for me, but that’s just not going to happen.
In my opinion, Sky Sports (or BT, should they outbid Sky Sports) need to provide more games, some kind of highlights and exclusivity. I believe that this is crucial to improve crowds, viewing numbers and most importantly, revenue.
Having just asked for the Pro12 to leave free to air TV, you can use Twitter to hurl abuse at me. Or pleasantly let me know that we don’t share the same views. Or even agree!
The Scribbler, 28th October, 2016