Wales’ mouthwatering autumn programme of matches against the best teams in world rugby could be screened exclusively on subscription TV for the first time, according to fresh reports.
Wayne Pivac’s side face New Zealand, world champions South Africa and revitalised Australia, the top three teams in the global rugby rankings, with a clash against Fiji also in the mix.
It is a schedule that bristles with promise, but Welsh supporters may not be able to watch any of the matches on free-to-air television as the games appear set to disappear behind a paywall.
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According to The Rugby Paper, Amazon Prime are declining to allow S4C live coverage of the series involving Pivac’s team. Nor is a highlights package guaranteed at this stage, say the reports.
The America-based company granted S4C access to all of Wales’ Autumn Nations Cup games last year.
But this time there is a suggestion they are of different mind, to the point where they could even provide their own Welsh language commentary for supporters via the red button.
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Many of the Autumn Nations Cup games provided dismal entertainment, with the rugby struggling to be considered even second rate.
The paper quotes a senior figure in television sports sponsorship as saying: “The movers and shakers at Amazon were surprised that S4C’s viewing figures were so high given the low quality of the rugby.
“It didn’t taken them long to twig that a lot of non-Welsh speakers had tuned in to watch the matches free instead of paying a subscription. So now it’s a different ball game.”
S4C are still hopeful an arrangement can be reached to enable them to screen Wales’ games. If such a deal proves elusive, Welsh supporters who want to watch the matches will have no choice other than to pay for subscription TV or shell out for match tickets if they can get them.
In Wales, where the sport traditionally has a working-class base, there will be a significant number who will argue they can’t afford the extra outlay, with rugby also being shown on the BT Sport, Premier Sports and Sky subscription channels.
They might further point out the potential perils of a sport taking showpiece games behind a paywall at a time when its entertainment value has been called into question after the most dire Lions series in recent memory.
The other side of the argument is rugby needs the cash.
It’s a delicate balancing act for the unions and the game generally.
England and Scotland’s autumn games are also set to be subscription-only affairs. RTE and Channel 4 are showing Ireland’s November matches, but next year Amazon will screen their November fixtures as well.
Wales’ game with New Zealand on October 30 will be the first time they have played the All Blacks at home in four years. They will be looking to end a 68-year winless run in the battles between the countries.
S4C have a proud history of covering Welsh rugby matches, at Test and domestic level, and will be hoping a deal can be struck that does enable Wales games to stay free-to-air.
Among S4C’s pundits are hugely popular Gist Vile columnists Nigel Owens, the best referee in the world over the past 10 years, and Gwyn Jones, the former Wales captain.
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