UK public service broadcaster the BBC and its commercial counterpart ITV have issued a request to Ofcom, the country’s communications regulator, for consent to broadcast exclusive live coverage of rugby union’s Six Nations tournament until 2024.
Ofcom has stated that it is “provisionally minded to approve the requests, subject to responses to the consultation from interested parties.”
A deadline of 7 January 2022 has been set for responses.
In May, the BBC and ITV, the incumbent rights-holders, agreed a deal in principle with Six Nations Rugby to continue showing live coverage of the top European national teams’ tournament in the UK for a further four years, ensuring prolonged free-to-air coverage.
The deal, which also includes the Women’s Six Nations and the men’s Under-20’s Championship, comes into effect for the 2022 season and runs to 2025.
The BBC and ITV’s previous six-year deal that expired at the end of this year’s tournament is valued at around £50 million ($66.2 million) per year.
Under the new agreement, ITV will have a bigger share of the men’s tournament, with the home fixtures of England, Ireland, Italy and France, while the BBC will only have the home games of Scotland and Wales.
Following this year’s competition, it was thought that live coverage could pass to a subscription broadcaster or digital platform as the organisers sought to maximise the value, and ensure a return on investment for CVC Capital Partners, the private equity firm, which recently agreed a deal worth £365 million to acquire a 14.3 per cent stake in the commercial rights to the Six Nations.
Pay-television broadcasters Sky and BT Sport and internet giant Amazon, all of which do or have shown top-level rugby, were linked with the bidding process, which, having been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, closed at the end of March.
However, with pressure to ensure the Six Nations remains available to all, and with rights fees suppressed to some extent as a result of the pandemic, the competition will ultimately remain free-to-air in the UK.
In 2019, an early day motion, led by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), was filed in parliament and signed by 11 MPs calling for the Six Nations to be added to Group A of the UK’s listed events, which includes the Olympics, soccer’s World Cup, the final of the FA Cup, the domestic cup competition, and the Wimbledon tennis championships, but this was ultimately rejected by the government last year.
Six Nations matches involving home countries are designated as Group B listed events, meaning Ofcom’s consent is required for a broadcaster to provide exclusive live television coverage.
Group B events can be shown live on pay-TV provided that secondary coverage (highlights and/or delayed broadcast) is offered to free-to-air broadcasters.
Last month, the BBC also retained audio rights for the Six Nations between 2022 and 2025.
The 2022 Six Nations is slated to begin on 5 February.