England Women's games against Canada fails to find a TV broadcaster

England's Emily Scarratt
England's Emily Scarratt

The BBC has declined to broadcast the upcoming matches featuring the Red Roses against Canada, despite being offered the rights at no cost.

England is set to host Canada, the fourth-ranked team in the world and World Cup semi-finalists, at Sandy Park this Saturday and at the Stonex Stadium on September 30. These matches serve as warm-up games for the new global competition, WXV.

Although both matches were offered to the BBC for free, with the hope of them being shown on BBC iPlayer at the very least, the corporation, currently two years into a five-year deal to broadcast the Women's Six Nations, has reportedly turned down the opportunity. When asked about the decision by Telegraph Sport, the BBC declined to comment on its sports rights negotiations.

This situation has left the RFU (Rugby Football Union) executives deeply frustrated, and fans have expressed their disappointment on social media due to the absence of live TV coverage for these matches.

In the absence of a broadcaster, the union has decided to live stream both fixtures online, marking a significant departure from the Red Roses' regular appearances on BBC Two in recent seasons. Earlier this year, the team won their fourth consecutive Grand Slam in front of a record crowd of 58,498 at Twickenham.

Marlie Packer, the England captain, expressed her disappointment, stating, "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. 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, shared Packer's sentiments, saying, "It’s a shame that it’s not going to be televised. 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 women's rugby. Six Nations is responsible for the distribution of TV rights for women's fixtures, even outside of its annual competition, but organizers declined to comment on the situation, despite being approached by Telegraph Sport multiple times.

ITV, which broadcasted all of last year's Women's World Cup matches, is also understood to have declined to acquire the rights for these matches, partly due to its busy rugby schedule as the host broadcaster for the men's World Cup in France.

One possible reason for the lack of interest from broadcasters could be the short lead-in time for both matches, which were announced by the RFU in mid-July. This apparent lack of interest contrasts with the growing public appetite for women's rugby, as data from the Women’s Sport Trust shows that BBC audiences for Red Roses matches this year increased by 17 percent compared to 2022. Additionally, 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 acknowledged the importance of broadcasting in promoting women’s rugby and building a fan base. They stated, "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."

Meanwhile, Wales' friendly against the USA on September 30, another warm-up match for WXV, has also struggled to attract interest from a national broadcaster. This comes as a setback for Wales, who had a successful Women's Six Nations this year, finishing third behind England and France, thanks to increased investment in their women’s program by the WRU (Welsh Rugby Union). While all of Wales' Six Nations fixtures this year were shown on the BBC, the drop in interest for their friendly has reportedly frustrated some within the WRU.

Telegraph Sport has learned that discussions were held with the Welsh language channel S4C to broadcast the fixture, but no agreement was reached.

England is gearing up for their WXV campaign, set to begin on October 20 in Wellington, with fixtures against Canada and world champions New Zealand.