Last week, Premiership Rugby announced a new streaming service called PRTV Live, which will allow fans to stream and watch all Premiership Rugby games live, starting this coming weekend. As the pilot kicks off, it is £4.99 to watch a game of your choice or £6.99 for a full round.
Will I be paying for this service? No. Why? I’m already paying for BT Sport to be able to watch Premiership Rugby. Sadly, for one reason or another, the broadcaster makes the decision to only broadcast a couple of the games each week—basically the Saracens, Exeter and Harlequins matches, a Friday Night Lights game and maybe one more match—and not even that many when there is international rugby on, such as the Six Nations. Sadly it’s not just the Premiership where BT Sport choose to deny their audience, as BT Sport also hold the broadcasting rights to both the European Rugby Champions Cup and the EPCR Challenge Cup, but while they endeavour to show all of the Champions Cup, you’re lucky to see more than a handful of Challenge Cup matches broadcast all season.
Sadly in a time when rugby should be trying to reach new audiences and grow, it feels like it is getting harder and harder for people to watch. The men’s Six Nations is split between BBC and ITV. The women’s tournament may hit the BBC red button if you’re lucky. Premiership Rugby is on BT Sport or PRTV Live, with the occasional match and a highlights show recently added to ITV. The URC is on Premier Sports (which doesn’t even come into the most expensive Sports packages for most TV set-ups) with some games on BBC Wales or S4C, while the Top 14 and a number of internationals are also exclusive to the broadcaster. Premier 15s (the top flight women’s league in England) gets 1 game on the BBC red button per round. Sky Sports used to be the home of rugby but their offerings have dwindled over the years, losing the Premiership, then the precursors to the URC, stopping broadcasts of the Championship and now most recently losing broadcast rights for SANZAAR competitions, which has led to the loss of Super Rugby and left Southern Hemisphere Test matches in a position that I am currently unsure where I stand as a fan. Super Rugby is now found through a SANZAAR streaming platform. A season pass that will allow you to watch all 91 matches during the tournament costs £49.99, while a season pass for the Rugby Championship will be available later in the year.
As a big sports fan, I have shelled out for BT Sport and Sky Sports, but I am now finding my love of rugby unsatiated, and I’m sure that I’m in a much better financial position than many other fans. Granted I didn’t purchase the channels just for rugby, but that was a damn big reason!
Rugby is still a very small sport in global terms. That’s half the reason why rugby fans can be so happy about a rugby game even when it has just a couple of licences and looks like it was made for consoles that have aged out years ago despite the game only releasing at the end of January. If rugby wants to grow as a sport, it should be making the sport more accessible to potential new fans, and yet if anything, it is hiding the sport behind a paywall that will push away both potential new fans and die-hard fans who just want to watch as much rugby as they can.
Right now, the only competition who feels like they are getting this right is the MLR, whose games can all be streamed for free on The Rugby Network.