The BBC has snubbed the Red Roses by turning down the chance to show their upcoming matches against Canada – despite being offered the rights for free.
England host World Cup semi-finalists Canada, ranked fourth in the world, at Sandy Park this Saturday and at the Stonex Stadium on September 30, with both fixtures acting as warm-up games for the new global competition, WXV.
Both matches were offered to the BBC for nothing in the hope that they could be shown on BBC iPlayer as a bare minimum. But the corporation, which is two years into a five-year deal to show the Women’s Six Nations, is understood to have declined to show both games. When approached by Telegraph Sport, the BBC said it does not comment on its sports rights negotiations.
Bosses at the RFU are deeply frustrated by the situation, while fans have expressed their dismay on social media at there being no live TV offering for either match.
With no buy-in from a broadcaster, the union has been left with little choice but to show both fixtures on an online live stream. It marks a spectacular demotion for the Red Roses, who have become a mainstay on BBC Two over the past few seasons and earlier this year won a fourth consecutive Grand Slam in front of a record crowd of 58,498 at Twickenham.
Packer ‘disappointed’ with lack of TV time
England captain Marlie Packer said it was “hugely disappointing” that neither fixture will be shown on mainstream television.
“After the run in the Six Nations and getting 58,000 at Twickenham, obviously it’s hugely disappointing that we didn’t manage to get it on normal terrestrial TV,” said Packer.
“But the fact that it’s still being live streamed, people can still access it and watch it. It’s a bit above us. We’re here to play rugby and our focus is on the weekend. We’re disappointed but we know our fans and they will still tune in and watch it on the live stream.”
Louis Deacon, the interim head coach of the Red Roses who will be in charge of the Red Roses for the Canada Tests and during WXV before new head coach John Mitchell takes over, echoed Packer’s comments.
“It’s a shame that it’s not going to be televised,” said the former Leicester Tigers lock. “It’s [the women’s game] been hugely supported before, with the BBC and Six Nations and that’s really helping to grow the women’s game. All we can do is focus on the game and continue to grow the support that the Red Roses already have.”
The failure to secure a broadcaster also raises questions about the Six Nations’ ability to promote the women’s game. Six Nations are responsible for the distribution of TV rights for women’s fixtures, even if they fall outside of its annual competition. Organisers declined to comment on the situation, despite being approached numerous times by Telegraph Sport.
ITV, which showed all of last year’s Women’s World Cup matches, is also understood to have declined to buy either fixture. This is thought to be in part due to the channel’s saturated rugby schedule as the host broadcaster for the men’s World Cup in France.
‘We understand the important role of broadcast’
The lack of lead-in time for both matches, which were announced by the RFU in mid-July, is thought to have been a major turn off for broadcasters, although their apparent lack of interest appears at odds with the growing public appetite for women’s rugby.
Data from the Women’s Sport Trust shows that BBC audiences for Red Roses matches this year increased by 17 per cent in comparison to 2022, while this year’s Women’s Six Nations was the most viewed on record, with 10.4 million viewing hours, up from the previous best of 7.7 million in 2022.
An RFU spokesperson said: “We understand the important role broadcast has on the accessibility of women’s rugby and its ability to build a fan base and inspire people to try the game.
“We are pleased to be hosting live streams of both England’s Summer Series matches against Canada this month on England Rugby’s YouTube and Facebook channels. It will be a great opportunity to showcase the Red Roses in action ahead of the inaugural WXV tournament in New Zealand in October.”
Wales’ friendly against the USA on September 30 – another warm-up match for WXV – has also struggled to attract interest from a national broadcaster.
It will be a bitter blow for Wales, who enjoyed one of their best ever Women’s Six Nations this year when they finished third behind England and France, following increased investment by the WRU into their women’s programme.
All of Wales’ Six Nations fixtures this year were shown on the BBC but the stark drop off in interest for their friendly is rumoured to have frustrated some within the WRU.
Telegraph Sport understands talks had taken place with the Welsh language channel S4C to broadcast the fixture, but no agreement was reached.
England begin their WXV campaign on October 20 in Wellington, before fixtures with Canada and world champions New Zealand.