Women’s Six Nations: What’s next for the expanding tournament?

Welford Road England v Ireland
The record attendance at an England women’s home international was set last weekend when England faced Ireland.

The Women's Six Nations enters this weekend's final round with high standards, increased interest, and large crowds.

How can the tournament capitalize upon a fantastic season?

Ben Morel, chief Six Nations of Six Nations, has been setting out his vision…

More competition

France beat Scotland
England and France rank number one and three in the world, with New Zealand as the world champions.

France and England are the top teams in the competition. Far away. The top two finishers in 2020/2021 were the pair. They will compete for this title in the final round of fixtures.

In the first four rounds, England won an average of 62 points. France's average margin is 29 points, which is still quite impressive.

Morel stated that the tournament is not blinded by the disparity in standards and is instead looking for the long-term.

“There are some great competitions among other unions. He said that this is not something to be overlooked.

“But, we fully understand that there is a difference between the two. France and England are very competitive, which is not to be blamed. They are some of the best, if certainly not the greatest, teams in the world.

They set the example to follow. It takes patience, understanding, and time. We are just at the beginning of a journey. Each union wants to catch up, but realizes that there is a starting place.

Morel stated that closing the gender gap was one reason why funding unions were not awarded the same amount based on the performance of their men's teams in the Six Nations.

He said, “If we had the exact same system for the women's tournament it would be a little counter-intuitive due to the sporting gap.”

“We want to ensure that weaker unions don’t get further disadvantage.”

A unique fixture list

The “new normal” for the Women's Six Nations is a slot in the sporting calendar that falls during springtime. These matches were used to take place alongside the men's tournament at the beginning of February or the end of March.

However, the Covid pandemic required a rethink. The tournament was eventually reopened in 2021 in condensed form. However, restrictions were eased when it moved to April.

The men's competition gave the women's tournament more space and has given it extra publicity.

The women's tournament will not be mirrored in the men's fixture lists. It will be its own event, with a distinct narrative.

Morel said that having a window allows you to focus on your own schedule and not depend on other men.

“This was a strange coincidence, as it matches the interest of the women's team to keep the fixtures as they were. This will be a distinct future.

“I do for the moment anticipate that the fixture between England & France will be on the last weekend.”

The details for the 2023 tournament will soon be released.

Ongoing losses

Record crowds, major sponsors, media coverage… but players continue to compete in their free time, despite having work commitments.

England's rugby players can now focus on their game after the Rugby Football Union gave out 28 full-time contracts in 2019. Other nations are still playing catch up.

France's semi-professionals make up the majority of its players, while Wales has 12 full-time offers for this year's tournament.

Only 10 Scotland players are eligible for contracts. Ireland gets a lump sum and Italy expenses.

Morel stated that the Women's Six Nations has yet to generate profits that could go back into the pockets of players.

He stated that the women's game was a significant investment both at the central level and at union level.

“There is no forecast yet as to when it will be profitable. It's likely to take several years. It's going take a lot of time. We have the patience, commitment, and belief that we are on track.

“We all support this absolutely. We are all happy that this will continue for the foreseeable future.

Morel said that TikTok's title sponsorship provided a strong financial contribution to the tournament. Morel also suggested that other partners should be announced for next season's tournament.

New routes to reach a new audience

Jess Breach with a television camera
Is it possible to attract new viewers by making a documentary that shows the inner workings and operations of the teams?

The behind-the scenes documentary Drive to Survive, which Netflix released in 2016, has been recognized for driving interest in Formula 1 among new markets and new demographics.

It has been suggested that the Six Nations might do something similar. The famous Living with the Lions series was shot during the 1997 Lions tour to South Africa. This shows that rugby can be compelling viewing.

Morel said, “Potentially”, when discussing the possibility for a documentary charting future tournaments.

“We want to ensure that the game is as successful and enjoyable as possible, no matter what gender it is. This is something we want to do, especially with younger people. All avenues should be explored.

They have made progress via social media thanks to the tournament's tie-ups with TikTok.

The #W6N hashtag was used to generate over 130 million video views across all channels.

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