As the broadcasting of men's international rugby appears to be on the brink of change, Alison Donnelly considered whether women's rugby may benefit on Wednesday's OTB AM.
Earlier this month it was announced that the Six Nations have entered into a partnership with CVC Capital Partners which will see the private equity and investment advisory firm take a one-seventh share.
The company's latest investment in rugby, it heightens the likelihood that the Six Nations competition may soon be heading behind a paywall.
"I tongue-in-cheek tweeted a couple of weeks ago that men's rugby moving behind a paywall means women's rugby might be the only free-to-air rugby people get to see," remarked Scrum Queens founder Alison Donnelly on Wednesday's OTB AM.
"I was only half-joking [but] there is an opportunity there, for sure."
Still trying hard to understand if today's @SixNationsRugby CVC investment will genuinely benefit women's rugby. One upside of the broadcasting melee about to unfold in men's comp tho may be that the women's comp might be the only 6N on free to air TV!?Let's have you @BBCSport 😄
— Scrumqueens - Women’s Rugby (@ScrumQueens) March 11, 2021
Although no plans for the future broadcasting of the men's Six Nations have yet been revealed, Donnelly, a Cork native living in London, cited how the BBC are now enhancing their efforts when it comes to the women's competition.
"They are showing some of the games on the iPlayer," she explained, "but they're showing England's final game on BBC Two. That's a huge step.
"Here in the U.K. we've never actually had Women's Six Nations games on terrestrial television like that. I had to check when it said that on the press release, but that's true.
"I guess in Ireland we've been lucky and RTÉ have done a really good job showing the games live. But it really is quite a big opportunity."
While the commercialisation of women's rugby remains some way shy of women's football in the U.K., Donnelly was nevertheless impressed with the positive steps taken by that sport this week.
In an "extraordinary" moment for the sport, it was announced the Women's Super League had entered into a joint-broadcast deal with Sky Sports and the BBC.
"The deal they have done here is really interesting," suggested Donnelly, "because they're getting both: the income stream from pay-per-view TV and the access to a free-to-air audience.
"When you're a growing sport that's absolutely key. It is good to be able to see it."
A possible benchmark women's rugby can aspire to reaching in the years ahead, Donnelly remains convinced that the best means of advancing the game now is to simply increase the number of people who can watch it.
"With a growth sport like women's rugby, it would be very risky to put it behind a paywall," she reasoned. "Sure, the small dedicated audience will find it, but that is a small dedicated audience right now.
"I think the great comparison is when we had the Women's football World Cup in 2019 on the BBC and the audiences were upwards of 10 million, it was huge.
"I would much prefer - albeit you can't always choose - for it to be free-to-air."