Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

BBC Begin a Rugby Blitz; Pressure Is on to Make U70m TV Rights Gamble Pay

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

BBC Begin a Rugby Blitz; Pressure Is on to Make U70m TV Rights Gamble Pay

Article excerpt

Byline: ADRIAN WARNER

THE BBC will launch a huge promotional campaign for the Six Nations this week, including rugby specials on Blue Peter and Ready Steady Cook in a bid to rescue the tournament from dwindling ratings and justify their u70 million gamble on the tournament's TV rights.

Viewing figures have fallen by 50 per cent in the past five years and rugby officials are desperate to get more young people watching a championship which is losing importance now that England regularly play superpowers Australia and New Zealand.

This season the BBC, who have won back exclusive rights for all 15 games, are even prepared to take the game into the most dangerous waters in TV - the Saturday early-evening slot - where they will try to grab young viewers and families who usually watch Blind Date.

Some TV insiders think the experiment will fail miserably and BBC ratings will "take a kicking" when they show England's clash with Wales in Cardiff on 22 February, kick-off at 5.30pm.

The policy of spreading three games across a weekend is not popular among fans who enjoy the social side of the tournament, traditionally centred around Saturday kick-offs at 2.30pm.

A furious row is already raging about the late kick-off in Cardiff since there are no trains after the match to take supporters back to England.

Railway chiefs claim they were not consulted about the start time.

Critics of Sunday kick-offs point to the dull atmosphere for England's clash with Scotland at Murrayfield five years ago when the match was staged on a Sunday for the first time.

But BBC executives are determined to make sure none of the games clash.

Although new Six Nations chairman Jacques Laurans stressed last week that rugby "tampered with the tournament at its peril", it is clear officials are keen to tinker with traditions even further to boost viewing figures. Average figures for games on terrestrial TV have fallen in the last five years from 5m to 2. …

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