Lack of free to air coverage of United Rugby Championship in Scotland is embarrassing says SRU chief Mark Dodson
The competition, which features Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors, is shown on terrestrial TV in Wales, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Italy, the other European territories which have teams in the tournament.
However, neither BBC Scotland nor STV is showing games. Viewers in this country can watch the matches on the subscription channel Premier Sports, and can also access some games on BBC Wales, BBC Northern Ireland and the Welsh language channel S4C.
Dodson is delighted with Premier Sports’ coverage but admits he is at a loss to explain why there is no interest from BBC Scotland or STV.
“I don’t know why that is and I’m embarrassed by it to be perfectly honest,” said the SRU chief executive. “Scotland are the only nationwide television service that didn’t back the bid and they had lots of opportunities through the URC to join the party. Wales joined, Northern Ireland joined and Scotland chose not to.”
BBC Scotland is broadcasting matches in the Super6, the semi-professional club competition, but not the URC.
“It’s as if they will support us at that level but at this level, they have no appetite or budget to enter the discussions,” added Dodson. “And don’t forget the discussions weren’t with us but held centrally with URC.
“But I have to say that we’re very pleased with the coverage of URC on Premier and BBC Northern Ireland and Wales. They’ve definitely improved the production values, so it looks great.”
BBC Scotland said in August that they were “exploring options for coverage of the URC” but the tournament kicked off last weekend without their involvement.
“I’ve been bending their ear since I came up here,” added Dodson. “We’ve had periodic moments of success and we’ve a good relationship with the BBC, but when it came down to pounds, shillings and pence, they didn’t want to enter into that process. And, obviously it’s frustrating for our partners.”
John Jeffrey, the chairman of the Scottish Rugby Board, thinks football’s popularity in Scotland has left rugby on the outside when it comes to coverage from the state broadcaster and described it as “deeply disappointing”.
“If you look at those two territories: Northern Ireland – the number one sport is rugby union, Wales – the number one sport is rugby union. Scotland – our number one sport is football,” said Jeffrey.
Martin Anayi, United Rugby Championship CEO, has pushed for more free to air coverage of the new tournament in a bid to increase the audience, even though this has meant taking in less money than if the coverage had been exclusively on pay TV.
“We need to make sure the URC has as good a shot as possible of reaching as many house as possible,” Anayi wrote in the latest edition of Rugby World.
The URC has also struck free-to-air partnerships in the Republic of Ireland with TG4 and RTÉ and in Italy with Mediaset.
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