England won their third Six Nations trophy in three years in a tense and hard-fought battle against France. It was the perfect final to showcase the women’s game on free-to-air BBC Two, and we should be asking, shouldn’t we see more women’s rugby on our TVs?
I watched all three of England’s Six Nations matches with their two previous on the BBC iPlayer, and the game has really come along with the squad putting in three solid performances.
Thankfully the best game was the final against France and proper arm-wrestle of a match that was enjoyable as a viewer to watch.
It was also great the BBC put on a decent production with Gabby Logan presenting the show, but the shining light from the broadcast was commentator Sara Orchard. Who should be commentating more games in the Gallagher Premiership for BT Sport because she’s terrific.
We have to wait till the figures come in, but I can see (and hope) the numbers being high, and if they are, a serious discussion has to be had about the broadcasting rights to the domestic game.
Just look at the Women’s Super League before Covid attendance were on the rise for the domestic game, with viewing figures avenging peaks of 285,000 on the BBC and 85,000 on BT (via Insider Sport). The game blew up during the 2019 World Cup with 11.7 million watching England’s semi-final defeat.
From next season the WSL is leaving BT and moving to Sky in a deal worth £7m-£8m per season (via The Telegraph) and staying on BBC, but instead of just being on their Red Button or iPlayer service, coverage will be on BBC One and BBC Two.
While it is a pity BT lost the rights, it is a golden opportunity for the broadcaster to solidify their position as the home of rugby by being the lead broadcaster for the Allianz Premier 15s.
A deal that would change the face of women’s rugby as it wouldn’t be just the England and French players being professional. It would help the other Home Nations having professional players in their squads to make the Six Nations a more competitive tournament.
To fit it into the schedule and get as many eyes on the product as possible, move the competition to the summer to have its own spotlight out for Premiership Rugby’s shadow. Also, we could see more of the best in the game from France, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Canada to join clubs in Premier 15s.
A deal like this could develop the women’s game further as it would introduce a second-tier with more clubs joining the likes of Bath, Leicester, Northampton and Richmond with local clubs like Worthing, Leeds and High Wycombe to be part of it.
It would also help make the upcoming Women’s Lions squad more competitive.
Meanwhile, just like the WSL, the BBC needs to be included as they’ll get more eyes on the product through the iPlayer with the big game on BBC2 and have the final airing on both broadcasting channels.
We should also see the end of England games being shown solely on the BBC iPlayer and move all England games on free-to-air with friendlies on BBC2, the returning BBC Three or Channel 4. All future Six Nations games on BBC One or Two, and if they’re unable to commit, maybe look at Channel 4 because how many multiple Come Dine With Me or Four In A Bed episodes can they show on a Saturday afternoon?