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The Six Nations Championship is set to remain on terrestrial television as part of a renewed long-term deal with both the BBC and ITV, Telegraph Sport can reveal.
A new deal is expected to be completed and confirmed next week and could see the women’s championship also included in the package in what will be regarded as a massive boost for supporters.
Audiences reached peaks as high as 8.4 million during this season’s Six Nations, despite the fact that the championship had to be played behind closed doors because of the global pandemic.
The retention of such a high profile free-to-air TV presence will also be seen by many with the game as critical in reviving interest in the grass-roots game after the easing of the lockdown.
The Rugby Football Union also recently pushed for a terrestrial commitment for the women’s championship and inclusion in the new deal would also represent a major step forward for the sport. The RFU declined to comment on Tuesday evening, however.
The BBC and ITV have jointly broadcast the Six Nations since 2016 but their £90-million-a-year deal came to an end after this season’s championship concluded in March. The new deal is thought to be an uplift on that figure but not as high as the target of £150 million per year.
The recent sale of a £365 million investment to private equity company CVC had raised fears that the championship would have to be sold to pay-TV in order to drive up the rights income.
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Select committee had a proposal to guarantee the tournament’s free-to-air status rejected last year but hopes of keeping the championship from going behind a paywall were boosted when the BBC’s director general Tim Davie said it was critical to retain the rights.
However, it seems that despite discussions with Amazon, Sky Sports and BT Sport, the move to sell both the Six Nations and autumn Test matches as a combined package to attract a ‘huge offer’ did not materialise due to the deflationary sports rights market.
What was said to have been a flexible bidding process closed at the end of March, having originally been postponed by a year because of the outbreak of the pandemic.
The rights for the autumn Test matches will now be sold separately, with insiders suggesting that Amazon are in pole position, given that they secured the rights for last year’s Autumn Nations Cup.