The Ireland women’s rugby team will continue to play their home NatWest Six Nations games at Donnybrook on Sunday afternoons having turned down an offer of a Friday or Saturday night prime time window on RTÉ TV, according to a report in today’s Irish Times.
Friday night games would have been as part of a doubleheader with the U20 Internationals, a format which led to a full stadium last St Patrick’s Day when England traveled over for a Grand Slam decider.
It is also a format which England have adopted. Ireland’s away game against the World Cup runners-up is part of a Friday night doubleheader next March.
Speaking to the Irish Times RTÉ Head of Sport Ryle Nugent said “We requested that home games are played as doubleheaders on Friday nights with the under-20s but that option was declined.”
“Our second option was to broadcast the games live on Saturday nights in prime time and that was also declined. We were informed the games would have to take place on Sunday.”
“Friday nights do not work, we were told, as they are amateur players and are going to struggle with taking time off work.”
“We fully accept that. We are not trying to cause a problem, we want to do the best we can for the women’s game in Ireland in terms of giving them a profile and an opportunity to engage with the largest possible audience.”
“We were just told Saturday nights wouldn’t work.”
Those Saturday night games would have followed each of the three home fixtures for the Men’s team all of which will be early afternoon kickoffs in 2018.
“The reason is to allow time for team preparation and minimise disruption to players’ work and study schedules,” explained an IRFU spokesman.
The opening game of the campaign is on a Saturday night in Toulouse, with a 9 pm start time.
RTÉ broadcast all of the games in last season’s tournament for the first time. Prior to that games had been scheduled on Friday nights in Ashbourne. They clashed with the Mens U20 Internationals which have traditionally been played on Friday nights and were covered by RTÉ under an agreement with the IRFU.
The TV audience for the England game on Friday night last year was 185,000, 50 percent higher than for the win over France with a 12-45 kick off on Sunday.
Given the rise in viewing figures that followed during the Women’s Rugby World Cup when 224,000 tuned in for the final group stage game against France it would be expected that there would be a greater appetite again in 2018, just as has been the case in viewing figures for the Ladies All Ireland Football Final on TG4.
RTÉ lost out on the Six Nations TV broadcast rights to TV3 following the end of the 2017 tournament but have retained the rights to the U20 and Women’s versions of the tournament.
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