Channel 4 have teamed up with Amazon Prime to ensure England’s meeting with Ireland in the Autumn Nations Cup on 21 November will be shown on free-to-air TV.
The network will show two other matches from the tournament, which was created by Six Nations Rugby in response to the autumn tours being abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ireland’s fixture with Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Friday 13 November will kick off the Autumn Nations Cup and Channel 4 will show that encounter. After England’s showdown with Ireland, the network will finish their live coverage with Ireland’s match against Georgia on 29 November .
Channel 4 will have highlights from all rounds of the inaugural competition, which has France, Scotland, Italy and Fiji involved in one group and England, Ireland, Wales and Georgia in the other. Amazon secured the majority of TV rights for the tournament, with 14 games to be broadcast to Prime members including England’s match with Ireland.
Pete Andrews, Channel 4’s head of sport, said: “We’re delighted to have teamed up with Amazon to bring rugby fans this fantastic tournament. It’s thrilling to be offering first-class live international rugby on Channel 4 and it’s great to be launching the tournament live on a Friday night with Ireland v Wales. The England-Ireland match-up the following week is a mouth-watering prospect.”
Channel 4 will also be showing live coverage of the Heineken Champions Cup Final on 17 October.
With Sky’s long-standing deal to show England’s November internationals now at an end, Amazon has a timely opportunity to flex its significant financial muscle and utilise rugby as a vehicle to attract new sofa-bound subscribers at a moment when stadiums remain largely empty.
Rugby is also having to re-examine its business model, with free-to-air broadcast partners able to pay significantly less for exclusive rights to the northern hemisphere’s leading competitions.
A new Six Nations broadcasting deal is also being negotiated, with BBC and ITV under intense pressure from other interested parties wishing to secure the rights from 2022 onwards.
While it is now confirmed that some autumn games will be free-to-air, the RFU’s chief executive, Bill Sweeney, has painted a stark picture of the huge financial losses facing the union. While the union remains hopeful 22,000 people, largely debenture and season ticket holders, will be allowed in to Twickenham for their November games, that will still leave the ground almost three-quarters empty.
Sweeney is also waiting for further details from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport following the government update which, for now, limits the size of crowds at test events to 1,000. “We remain cautiously optimistic about the return of fans to the stadium,” he said. As things stand, the RFU is still planning to stage a test event for 7,500 people on either 10 or 17 October.
With differing restrictions in place in Ireland and France and positive cases of coronavirus rising again, it is nevertheless an anxious time for all concerned. With the Principality Stadium still unavailable, the location for Wales’ home fixtures remains undetermined but the addition of Fiji and Georgia has allowed for two pools. England will play in Group A alongside Ireland, Wales and Georgia, with Group B comprising France, Scotland, Italy and Fiji. Based on the pool rankings approaching the finals weekend, each team will face off against the side who finished in the same position in the opposite pool.