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Could Amazon Snap Up the TV Rights to Rugby’s Six Nations?

Rugby Stadium and Television ScreenGiven their considerable financial might, it is surprising that Amazon haven’t made a more concerted effort to break into the world of live sports broadcasting.

They have dabbled with the occasional slice of live Premier League coverage – the number of subscriptions to Amazon Prime rose 35% when they showed two rounds of matches last season, and it will be interesting when the contract that Sky Sports and BT Sport have to show the English top-flight comes to an end in 2022 what will happen next – could the internet retailer or even a brand like Facebook dive in and snap up the rights?

For now, Amazon have made an initial move into rugby union, picking up the exclusive rights to show the Autumn Nations event for a reported £20 million. They have assembled a high profile team as well with Gabby Logan on commentary duty and the likes of Sam Warburton and former England captain Dylan Hartley on punditry duty.

The current broadcast deal shared by the BBC and ITV for the Six Nations comes to an end in 2022, and with the Beeb seemingly intent on cutting down on their sporting coverage in recent years it remains to be seen whether the two terrestrial channels will go in again.

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The coronavirus pandemic has hit rugby union hard, and a raft of pay cuts and cutbacks in other areas have hit many of the leading club sides in the UK and Ireland.

It has been suggested that CVC, a private equity firm, have made a £300 million to own some of the commercial rights attached to the Six Nations, and that immediate investment will surely be welcomed by the RFU and other decision makers within the game.

A choice they may have to make further down the line is whether or not they want to remain on terrestrial television or sell the broadcast rights to the highest bidder – albeit potentially suffering a loss of interest in the sport, as has been witnessed in cricket since it moved to Sky. The numbers of youngsters playing cricket has dwindled substantially, and rugby’s major powers may have that in mind.

Phelan Hill of Nielsen Sports, who specialise in the marketing of sports broadcasting, believes that Amazon are not the ‘white knight’ that rugby needs – nor are they particularly interested in being so.

“The Amazon model so far has not been embedding in a sport and growing an audience, he said.

“They are opportunist, looking to protect their Prime customer base which is commerce, and I think they are trying to get a buzz from rugby before the Christmas shopping period.

“There are not many major sporting properties available in November and a one-off event aligns with Amazon’s DNA. They will be innovative in their coverage, but my feeling is that they are not in this for the long haul but will be looking for the next opportune moment.

“I cannot see them investing in the Six Nations because it would mean having to grow an audience base, but what will be interesting in the coming weeks is whether they look to use the matches to drive the sale of merchandise: as you watch a game you tell Alexa to order a jersey.”