ADDING Wales’ Six Nations matches to a list of protected free-to-air TV events would threaten the survival of the Welsh Rugby Union, its new chief executive warned.

Abi Tierney, who was appointed in August, told the Senedd’s culture committee that continued investment in Welsh rugby is heavily reliant on money from media rights.

She said: “We absolutely need to strike a balance between the assessment on what reach we need to give with a balance on investment in the game.

“Without this investment we would really struggle to continue to survive as a union.”

Ms Tierney said the WRU raises about £90 million a year in total revenue, including an average of £20 million from media rights, with about £62 million spent on the community and regional game.

She said: “Even losing 20-30 per cent of that would mean a massive impact across the game.”

The warning follows the Senedd unanimously agreeing to urge the UK Government to add the Six Nations to Ofcom’s category A listed events.

Pressed about the potential impact on participation levels if rugby went behind a paywall, WRU executive director of rugby Nigel Walker acknowledged the correlation but warned of unintended consequences.

He said: “What we’re not saying is that we are going to select, as part of the Six Nations negotiating team, a pay-per-view broadcaster.

“What we are saying is that if you take that off the table, you take the tension and competition out of the market – and that would make it really difficult.

“Then the free-to-air broadcasters would pitch at a level which we would be forced to take.”

The former athlete and Wales winger said selling sports rights has been increasingly difficult in recent years due to economic headwinds.

He told MSs: “There’s a downward trend and the offers being made over the past 12 months in particular are showing a 30 per cent downturn.”

He told the committee meeting on February 1 that the WRU will not necessarily back the highest bidder when the rights go onto the market in 2024.

Asked about Welsh-medium coverage, Mr Walker said the WRU intends to ensure the offer is always there whether through S4C or the red button.

Pressed about concerns that local pubs and clubs may not be able to afford to show matches, Ms Tierney said affordability will be part of the consideration.

Asked if the WRU is over reliant on rights income, Ms Tierney warned that its finances are unsustainable and diversifying revenue streams will be an important part of the strategy.

On the role of CVC, a hedge fund which owns a 14 per cent stake in Six Nations rugby, Ms Tierney said the company is represented on the board and will be part of the conversation.

Mr Walker said CVC understands the importance of growing the game, stressing: “They’re not in it for short-term gain, I’ve not seen any evidence of that.”