The Six Nations tournament, the annual international men’s rugby union competition between the teams of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales, is one of the next behind-the-scenes documentary series coming to Netflix, the streaming and production company announced on January 12, 2023.
Rugby federations from the northern and southern hemispheres will hope it achieves rousing success as rugby pushes to make the game more popular and commercially attractive around the world. CVC Capital Partners, the private equity and investment advisory firm that bought a 14.3% stake worth $434.9 million in the Six Nations in 2021, is the company driving the idea.
The groundbreaking Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive continues to produce high viewing figures after first airing in 2019. The show has been instrumental in growing the iconic Formula 1 (F1) motor racing series, especially in the United States. In May 2022, the renowned American media research company Nielsen released figures that demonstrated how effectively the series is attracting viewers to the sport.
34% viewing the series had become fans of F1, 30% claimed an improved understanding and knowledge of the sport, and 29% reported that they felt more engaged with F1. Figures like these explain why the executives of the Six Nations would be champing at the bit to have a similar style series for their product with the chance to present the competition to some of the biggest sports markets in the world.
This new series should come as a relief to many rugby union federations, clubs, and fans. In large part due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the sport has been struggling financially, most acutely in England where Premiership Rugby teams Worcester Warriors and Wasps both entered administration in October 2022 and were subsequently suspended from the league.
The chief executive of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) Bill Sweeney has stressed the worrying state that rugby has found itself in, saying that the financial model of the sport is “broken.” There has also been a parliamentary inquiry in the UK over the “serious concerns about the future of the sport.”
Clearly, rugby union is at a crossroads between growth and crisis ahead of next year’s 2023 World Cup in France. It is therefore a smart decision to seek a behind-the-scenes series about one of the biggest competitions in rugby to attract more eyes to the sport and raise its appeal to potential new commercial partners.
The 2023 Six Nations, taking place in February and March, currently has five sponsors. In total, these will generate an estimated $17.37 million in sponsorship revenue. The beer company Guinness will remain the competition’s title sponsor, a position the company has held since 2019 after taking over from the commercial bank NatWest.
GlobalData estimates the deal, which also keeps Guinness in place as beer partner, is worth an estimated $10.62 million annually. The second most lucrative deal for the tournament is worth $2.5 million annually, with the video-sharing app TikTok.
The Six Nations has a very small sponsorship portfolio, especially when compared to the 33 brands currently signed on to be associated with the upcoming 2023 Rugby World Cup (RWC) tournament in France. Therefore, the Netflix series will be a great advert to find new partners willing to help expand the Six Nations portfolio.
World Rugby, which administers the RWC, will be hoping that the Six Nations docuseries grabs the attention of American sports fans, as the governing body aims to grow the popularity of the sport in the United States ahead of the much-anticipated 2031 men’s RWC and 2033 women’s RWCs being hosted there.
Due to the size of the American sports market, the 2031 RWC has the potential to be the most commercially lucrative tournament that World Rugby has ever held.
Another benefit of a successful Netflix rugby union series would be an increase in match attendances for domestic rugby. In England, the start of the Premiership 2022-23 season saw poor attendances recorded as only 54% of seats were filled for the first round of matches, the lowest percentage since 2016-17, excluding the Covid-affected season of 2020-21.
The following three rounds still did not provide much optimism for the league as only 56%, 76%, and 63% of total seats were filled.
The four Welsh regions teams have also experienced declining attendances across multiple seasons. The sport, which many would say is the national religion of Wales, has been in decline over the last few years, with a reduction in those involved in the community game, the four regional teams regularly putting in poor performances on the pitch, and crowd sizes shrinking.
This highlights the need for a resurgence in popularity of the sport, making fans return to matches. There is a demand for a radical restructuring of the sport in Wales, so a popular series to grab the attention of a rugby-loving nation might drive improvements.
Declining Rugby union attendances have also been a concern for the four Irish provinces since the Covid-19 pandemic, in spite of the national team currently topping World Rugby’s rankings. On the other hand, current attendances for the French Top 14 league are riding high as France are current Six Nations champions and 2023 Rugby World Cup hosts.
The Top 14 and the French Rugby Federation have been in a strong commercial position, but December’s guilty verdict in the rugby bribery scandal for billionaire league and federation sponsor Mohed Altrad may have put this at risk. GlobalData estimates that the deal that Altrad Group had in place as primary shirt sponsor with the French Rugby Federation was worth $8.42 million across five seasons.
The Six Nations docuseries will be a great start in trying to bring some much-needed finance into the competition as the tournament executives look to close the large gap in commercial revenues between the Six Nations and the RWC.
The Netflix audience that the Six Nations will be able to showcase to is vast, offering a major opportunity to grow not only the competition’s popularity but the sport’s as a whole and create regular viewers of Six Nations matches across the globe, especially in the United States, a market that the Six Nations will be hoping to break into in the lead-up to the men’s and women’s World Cups in the country.
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