Amazon and Channel 4 scrumming down for Autumn Nations Cup
By Simon Ward
Amazon, the online retail giant, is to provide exclusive live coverage in the UK of the majority of the Autumn Nations Cup, the eight-team rugby union competition taking place in northern Europe later this year.
However, a selection of live games, plus highlights of others, will be shown by free-to-air commercial broadcaster Channel 4.
It was reported last weekend that Amazon was lining up a shock swoop for the tournament, which, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, is replacing the traditional autumn internationals contested by European and southern hemisphere teams.
It was announced today that 14 of the 16 games to be played over four weekends, from 13 November to 6 December, will be shown in full on subscription service Amazon Prime Video in the UK, in what represents the platform’s first venture into live rugby.
In addition, Channel 4 will televise Ireland’s three home games, including the opener against Wales, plus the England-Ireland match at Twickenham in London on 21 November.
In Ireland, the country’s matches will be shown free-to-air on public-service broadcaster RTÉ under its existing deal with the Irish Rugby Football Union for autumn internationals, running to 2021.
Channel 4 is broadcasting the Ireland games under its corresponding agreement with IRFU. It also offers a number of live games each season from European club rugby's Heineken Champions Cup.
Amazon has stepped into the fray after pay-television operator Sky’s deal with England’s Rugby Football Union for the national team’s autumn internationals expired, and the new agreement complements its live coverage in the UK of tennis’ US Open, presently taking place in New York, the men's ATP Tour and women's WTA Tour, and a selection of matches from English soccer’s Premier League, which kicks off this weekend.
In the new rugby competition, the eight sides have been split into two pools, with England, Ireland, Wales and Georgia (which have replaced Japan) in Group A, and France, Scotland, Italy and Fiji in Group B.
Following the group fixtures, there will be a finals weekend in which each team will face off against the team ranked in the same position in the opposite pool to decide the overall positions.
Twickenham, the Aviva Stadium in Dublin and Murrayfield in Edinburgh will all stage matches, with other venues to be confirmed.
The tournament has been organised following the remaining four matches in the 2020 Six Nations, held over from earlier this year, to fill the gap left by the cancellation of the autumn internationals against teams such as New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, which presently face difficulties in travelling to Europe and, nevertheless, are now set to contest The Rugby Championship in the same slot.
Looking ahead to the new event, Ben Morel, the chief executive of the Six Nations, said: “While the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic made the traditional Autumn Test window unfeasible, we remained determined to deliver a unique and compelling tournament proposition.
“We cannot wait for the tournament to get under way in November and fans can look forward to some outstanding matches featuring some of the greatest players in the world.”
Amazon's entry into rugby union presents another possible option for the Six Nations as it targets a new UK rights deal for 2022 to 2025, albeit the tender process has been delayed by the pandemic.
The six-year deal with public-service broadcaster the BBC and commercial network ITV expires after the 2021 tournament, and the tournament organisers will face pressure to ensure at least an element of free-to-air live coverage going forward.