BBC in three-way fight for Women’s Rugby World Cup TV rights

England v Scotland in the Women's Six Nations
The increasing popularity of the Women's Six Nations has been a fillip for the sport - PA/Steve Welsh

The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are in a three-horse race to secure the television rights for next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup in England.

World Rugby has entered into promising discussions with all three broadcasters, with the governing body hoping to strike an agreement with one of them before the summer.

Of the three channels, two already have a strong women’s rugby portfolio. The BBC has one year left on its four-year contract with the Women’s Six Nations, while ITV was the host broadcaster for the 2022 World Cup in New Zealand and showed England’s WXV games on its on-demand streaming service, ITVX, last year.

Next year’s World Cup has already been tipped as an “era-defining” moment for the sport and there are high hopes the tournament can turbocharge women’s rugby in a similar way to how the Lionesses’ 2022 European Championship triumph transformed women’s football.

Free-to-air coverage has been identified as a key priority for the event, with Sarah Massey, the tournament’s managing director, telling Telegraph Sport that it is crucial the tournament is “widely accessible”.

“Our main mission is to run the greatest Women’s World Cup that we can, which will be a generational moment to supercharge the sport as a whole,” said Massey. “We can put a different angle on it, knowing that the players are very accessible and want to tell their stories and help promote the event and be part of the success of what we do.”

Massey said the three domestic broadcasters that have been approached are all “really interested in the event” amid booming TV audiences in this year’s Women’s Six Nations.

The Red Roses’ opening match against Italy on March 24 attracted a peak audience of 1.1 million and was the second most watched live sporting event of the weekend on terrestrial TV, bettered only by the men’s international football fixture between England and Brazil, which attracted a peak audience of 5.4 million.

England’s second-round win over Wales on March 30 attracted a peak audience of 1.2 million and its audience soared by 75 per cent compared to the same fixture last year. Average TV audiences for the first two rounds of the championship have increased by a fifth, too.

World Rugby is hoping a rights deal for next year’s women’s World Cup can be reached before the summer, which would be well over a year before the start of the tournament on August 22 next year, to give the selected broadcaster maximum lead-in time to the event.

Organisers will be conscious of the delayed rights saga that threatened to overshadow last year’s women’s football World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, when the BBC and ITV struck an agreement with Fifa just five weeks before the start of the tournament amid threats of a European TV blackout after low-ball offers from television broadcasters. Such a scenario, however, would appear unlikely in women’s rugby, which is at a less commercially advanced stage than women’s football.

Previously, the TV rights packages for both the women’s and men’s Rugby World Cups were sold together but the 2025 iteration, which sees the Rugby Football Union targeting a sell-out for the final at Twickenham, will mark the first time they will be sold separately.

Massey added: “We’re looking at what each channel can bring in terms of additional programming, additional promotion and how they will invest in the presenters and hosts they choose, how it will be presented and how innovative it can be.

“It’s important we bring on the right partner who shares the same vision as us for the event, but also one that invests heavily into the promotion of it beforehand. It’s really important that it’s accessible, free-to-air, and that people have as much chance as possible to watch it on a main channel.”