Premier prosper as Scrum V collapses

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With the season now four weeks old, it is a good time to evaluate a number of aspects of the campaign so far. Player performance, coach impact and general team form will all be covered by the inevitable WalesOnline lists, but as a supporter it seems like the first opportunity to assess the television coverage so far.

Last summer saw a big shake-up in this area, with the Pro14 switching from being covered across Sky Sports, BBC Wales and S4C to being solely screened by Premier Sports, although S4C have retained one game per weekend.

This caused a fair amount of debate about the pros and cons of the league largely being screened behind a pay wall on a not particularly well known channel. The boost in television money to the clubs was more than welcome, but concern was raised about the league lacking visibility with the wider public.

However, Premier Sports have done a sterling job of allaying any fears thus far. The coverage has been very good, with a strong set of presenters and analysts providing good insight both pre and post game, all games appearing on the free-to-air FreeSports channel during the week and an improving Pro14 Hour magazine show on a Wednesday night in conjunction with Eir Sport.

Premier Sports Pro14
Premier Sports have made a strong start with their Pro14 broadcasts

Premier have also been keen to respond to any customer complaints, with commentator teams already replaced for games outside of Britain and Northern Ireland after that debacle we encountered during the Benetton v Cardiff Blues match.

Most importantly though is the enthusiasm in which they have broadcast the league so far, placing the Pro14 at the front and centre of their programming and ensuring all games are advertised and shown in a real positive light. They are creating a feel good factor around the league.

Compare that, on the other hand, with BBC Wales’ coverage of the Principality Premiership so far and there are stark contrasts.

Finding themselves with a black hole in the schedule of Friday nights, the national broadcaster decided to cash in on their rights to show the top tier of Welsh domestic rugby and show a live game a week. ‘Cash in’ is used ironically of course, with the Beeb paying £0 for the rights.

With the other big changes over the summer coming in the form of regional A teams playing in the Celtic Cup, a first big step was taken towards relieving Premiership clubs of their development pathway responsibilities and allowing them to focus on making the league the best it can be.

Celtic Cup
Welsh A teams play their Irish counterparts in the Celtic Cup

Scrum V making the league their flagship rugby broadcasting should have gone hand-in-hand with that aim, however Scrum V have not taken the opportunity to promote the Principality Premiership with anywhere near the same vigour as Premier Sports have done with the Pro14.

Matches are still broadcast in standard definition with very minimal pre and post match analysis from the pundits who resemble an old boys club than a serious group of rugby analysts. Fortunately the matches selected so far have been entertaining to somewhat mask this.

Then the Scrum V Sunday evening show has been woefully underused as a Principality Premiership highlights programme.

A feature is done on the Friday night live game, then there’s a feature from a selected Saturday games which this week saw the comedian Mike Bubbins attend Llandovery v Llanelli with the majority of the coverage based around regional A teams.

That is a somewhat recurring theme after Gareth Thomas’ feature in the opening weeks, as the Premiership fails to realise it’s own potential by wallowing in a self created pit of professional development pathway hatred.

Llandovery Cardiff RFC
Some decent Premiership highlights wouldn’t go amiss

A discussion follows around some matter from the wider rugby world, head injuries this week, New Zealand’s defeat to South Africa last week, before the Welsh regions progress in the Pro14 is discussed.

Finally the programme reaches the highlights from the Saturday and Sunday games in the Premiership. Three minutes later those highlights come to a conclusion.

What should be the main focus of the programme is crammed into the last few minutes of the show almost as an afterthought. Phil Steele does his best to bring it to life but it’s difficult to be enthused by a try from each side, if you’re lucky, shot on a camcorder from the dodgiest of angles.

Where can we go from here? Well, the producers of Scrum V have an opportunity to play a major role in assisting the Principality Premiership in realising it’s potential as the main domestic competition in Wales, whether those in the league want to or not.

The way to boost ratings is to follow the lead of Premier Sports and hype the product to enthuse the sofa supporter. If the rugby action becomes an afterthought, especially on the Sunday night programme, viewing figures will drop rapidly and a show already cut to just 30 minutes could find itself disappearing altogether.

That all hinges on BBC Wales’ desire to listen to viewers and act accordingly though. I don’t hold out a huge amount of hope on that front.

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