Enduring Appeal of 6 Nations Rugby

Last week Ireland clinched the Grand Slam in the 2009 RBS Six Nations rugby tournament after a dramatic victory in the final match against Wales in which the momentum changed several times in the closing minutes.

The celebrations of the Irish players and fans were enduring and heart-felt because it was the first time Ireland had beaten all of the other teams in the competition (the “Grand Slam”) since 1948.

This most traditional of tournaments, featuring England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy traces its origins to the late 19th century. France first took part officially in 1910 and Italy joined in 2000. Every team plays each other once over a six week period from early February to late March.

It might be expected that interest in such a tournament would wane: the same teams every year, predictable results, cold and wet weather. In fact, the tournament remains a huge success. The stadiums are always full and matches attract up to 5 or 6 million television viewers in the UK and France. Almost all of the major print and online sports media devote pages and pages to each weekend of action.

What are the reasons for this success? This is my view: 

- A simple format, which has not been tampered with
- The matches are broadcast live on Saturday and Sunday afternoons on free to air television
- The results remain surprisingly unpredictable and matches are often close
- It a

voids clashes with other major events (except the Olympic Winter Games one year in four)
- Historic and impressive stadiums
- Occasional innovations have generally proved successful:
     – Introduction of Italy into the tournament in 2000
     – Ireland home matches played at Croke Park (previously reserved for Gaelic Sports) while a new stadium is being constructed
     – First Friday night match held in 2009 attracted good viewing figures

There are lessons here for any sports event rightsholder. Tradition is a powerful asset but all sports events need to evolve. The RBS Six Nations has been nurtured and respected: it has moved with the times. 

The proof of the continuing appeal of the tournament is that in January the Royal Bank of Scotland, which has committed to significant cuts to its sports sponsorship after having to be rescued by British taxpayers, renewed its sponsorship of the Six Nations tournament through to 2013 for a rumoured £20m.

Performances in this year’s RBS Six Nations will be a major consideration in the selection of the squad for the British and Irish Lions Tour to South Africa in June. We can expect Welsh and Irish players to feature prominently.

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