A friend enquired the other day about the Big 8, as he called it. He is old enough to remember the showband era in this country, when Brendan Bowyer’s boys were marquee names in dancehalls around the country.
t took us a while to make the connection between this tag, which he has now gifted generously to the marketing men of rugby, and the eight-team tournament coming our way in November and December.
His enquiry was specifically about where he could watch it. Or if. He is getting on in years. Raised on having to clear the snowy screen by manipulating the rabbit ears, working out the remote-control options for his telly is a challenge.
It is exacerbated by the inconvenience of trying to find out what is on, where, and if his tv package gets him in the door. Back-to-school time first brought us the sales pitch about the convenience of ‘one-stop shopping.’ With rugby you have to burn some shoeleather to cover the bases.
When locked out of games due to unforeseen circumstances you need the next best thing. In time you’d expect it to be tied up in a neater bundle, easy to identify, easy to access.
That, if you remember, was the expectation when CVC rode into town, throwing dollar bills at every other rugby property on main street. Hey presto, here comes those rugby traditionalists, Amazon Prime.
Amazon and Disney got a bit of airplay – when CVC were hoovering up property – as the potential big hitters who might be lured into the ballpark. The positive spin-off from this ruptured season is that some emergency surgery had to be performed.
The Autumn Nations Cup – The Big 8 is definitely a better name – is that rescue job, stitched into place before Christmas. Will we ever see this vehicle on the road again? Probably not. But before a ball is kicked you’d be hopeful that Amazon consider it money well spent.
They’re getting it for a song. Paid for out of petty cash. Some suggestions put it at 40 per cent less than Sky were paying England for their November international series. This is not an exercise for the bean counters though, rather it’s for those whose bag of metrics put numbers on how it grows their business.
When CVC wrap up their deal with the Six Nations they will be able to support that jewel with the Guinness Pro14, England’s Premiership and the November internationals, all nicely studded around the Championship crown. That gives them a stack of content to bring to the market.
If it seems that EPCR, organisers of the Heineken Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup, is the next block of apartments they want to buy, then ask yourself why they would bother?
The board of EPCR is already stuffed with folks who are counting CVC cash through the investment in the Pro14 and Premiership. Why buy what you already own, or at least can influence?
So the planets are aligning. Two bundles present themselves: the international package spanning Six Nations and November games; and the club competitions presenting all the major tournaments in the northern hemisphere bar France’s Top 14.
Yes, CVC and the Six Nations are haggling over the figures for the Championship, with the investor looking for some comfort if Covid-19 starts killing games off rather than sending them behind closed doors. It will be sorted, and that will clear the way to pursue top whack from the broadcaster.
That’s what makes the arrival of Amazon so attractive. If you are the rights holder then you want to walk into a room where Sky and BT and Amazon and Disney are knocking seven shades out of each other, with a handful of free-to-air broadcasters circling the fight, seeing what they can pick up. You want a scrap.
When the financially fittest survives, and you can factor in prize-giving for the terrestrials, then it’s been a good day’s work. Getting this right is critical to the future of the game, for what sponsors bring to the table is dwarfed by the offering from broadcasters.
At that point you’ll see the lion’s share of rugby mostly on one channel, in the same way as Sky streamline their sports.
As we wade into the autumn we have RTE, Virgin, Channel 4 and TG4 all with a piece of the pie, the fatter chunks of which are being baked by Sky, BT and Amazon Prime. The ingredients involve everything from Pro14 in the northern hemisphere to the Rugby Championship in the south.
If you are a rugby nut who is cocooning, self-isolating or just don’t want to go out – maybe your local pub or club has ditched its tv package, and anyway you can’t eat any more pizza – then you have problems. Like the number of sports-driven direct debits and bank charges coming out of your ears.
Moreover you’ve got repetitive strain injury from fiddling with the bloody remote-control. In which case you’ll be hoping the Big 8 makes a splash, and the Amazons of the world come back for another bite out of rugby. It won’t be free, but it might be easy.