IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne has warned the Government to be “very, very careful” to not disturb the funding balance of rugby in any consideration about whether the Six Nations should be designated free-to-air.
Minister for Communications Alex White is reportedly considering designating the games as sporting events which must be available to be broadcast live on terrestrial TV.
"Don’t interfere in the marketplace. Let us be the judges of what is best for the sport."
Speaking at the announcement of Irish Sports Council funding for the IRFU, the FAI, and the GAA, as part of which the IRFU received €2.36m to boost grass-roots development of the game, Brown voiced the IRFU’s concerns about the proposals.
“The reality is that free-to-air television has been good to the Six Nations up to now, and we’re one party of six in the Six Nations,” Browne told RTÉ Sport.
“So, we have a say, but we have a minor say – we have a ‘sixth say’ in what happens. The fundamental issue for us is that if the revenue streams are affected by decisions taken by Government in what is a market, an open marketplace, and a pan-European marketplace, then we have potentially difficulties, in that some of our income stream may be affected.
“The reality is: the €2.36m that the Government puts in is a drop in the ocean compared to the revenues that are generated by the Six Nations Championship for us.”
Browne said he doubted the Six Nations would be removed from free-to-air in the near future, but warned the Government to stop interfering.
“What we’re really saying is; don’t interfere in the marketplace. Let us be the judges of what is best for the sport.”
He accepted that fans wanted to see more of Ireland’s success on a free-to-air basis, but said: “there won’t be any success if we can’t afford it. It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario.
“And the reality is: you strip out funding, the first thing we have to decide: do we put the money into the professional game or do we put it into grass-roots?
“Now the reality is: if we take it away from grass roots, well then that affects our future. If we take it away from the professional game, that affects our ability to generate revenues ... What we’re really saying to the Government is: be very, very careful what you do, that you don’t disturb the economy of what is a finely balanced sport.”
Browne said the funding the IRFU received from the Sports Council was “absolutely fundamental to what we do, in terms of building participation numbers around the country.”
He continued: “Without that funding it would be very difficult for us to do what we do.
“We’re reliant on volunteers, but at the end of the day delivery of sport does require investment, in terms of development officers, in terms of coaching courses, in terms of a whole variety of programmes, all of which are there to ensure the quality of what we do at a grass-roots level.
“I think that the investment that has been over the last couple of years, you’re starting to see it come to fruition, in terms of the success we’ve seen with the women’s international team, and obviously the men’s international team as well.
“That doesn’t come by chance; it comes by careful investment and by delivering quality programmes at all levels in the game.”