BBC extends Six Nations rugby deal

BBC Sport has retained the television rights to one of their most valued possessions, the Six Nations Championship, in a £160 million deal, just when rugby union is enjoying a massive popularity boost after England’s World Cup heroics. They also announced today a three-year extension to their coverage of the US Masters golf tournament.

The Six Nations deal extends BBC Sport’s contract and covers TV, radio and online, but the £40 million-a-year payment – up from the present £29 million-a-year agreement – could cause unrest internally at the BBC, which is facing drastic £2 billion in cutbacks, including 2,800 staff redundancies throughout the corporation.

The BBC, which has suffered some high-profile losses in the sports rights market, made a pre-emptive take-it-or-leave-it offer to the Six Nations committee for another four years’ coverage until 2013, worth £2.7 million per game for each season’s 15 matches. The current deal runs until the end of the 2009 competition.

ITV, buoyed by their successful World Cup coverage – the network’s only rugby since the last global tournament four years ago – also put a significant bid on the table, but are thought to have withdrawn late on.

The Six Nations committee deliberated on the offers via a teleconference of board members on Wednesday, and opted to stay loyal to the BBC.

BBC Sport director of sport rights, Dominic Coles said: “We’re delighted to renew our partnership with the biggest annual rugby tournament in the world.”

This 2007 tournament was one of the most exciting in Six Nations history and saw TV audiences increase to their highest level for eight years, with an average of 4.3 million people per match.

The four-year period in question might include an invite to World Cup semi-finalists Argentina – based in Spain for the tournament – to make it a seven-nation festival of rugby.

“All of us in BBC Sport are looking forward to bringing you top international rugby well into the next decade,” said Roger Mosey, the head of BBC Sport.

The BBC, which loses its FA Cup and England football rights to ITV from next season, has another war chest ready for a serious offensive for the next Champions League contract, to be negotiated around Christmas.

â–  The BBC announced today a three-year extension to its contract to cover the US Masters golf.

BBC Sport has covered the annual Augusta trial since 1986, and this contract will see them continue with their exclusive live coverage up to and including April 2010.

Read Roger Mosey on the Six Nations deal by clicking here

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