The BBC and ITV will share the rights to broadcast rugby union’s Six Nations Championship for the next six years after fending off interest from pay-TV channels, it was announced on Thursday.
The Six Nations has had a long-standing relationship with the BBC and the broadcaster’s current rights deal was due to run until 2017.
The competition’s board said in January it could consider offers from pay-TV operators for its next UK broadcast rights deal, which could have meant the championship no longer being shown live on free-to-air television from 2018.
However, the BBC and ITV have agreed a deal reported in British media to be worth 50 million pounds a year to fend off interest from pay-TV channel Sky Sports, which has the rights to most of England’s other internationals.
“Both the BBC and ITV are committed partners of rugby, ITV with their coverage of the Rugby World Cup and the BBC with their long history of covering the Six Nations,” Bill Beaumont, Six Nations council chairman, said in a statement.
“We are excited to be working with them both to continue to develop the interest in the Championship and to ultimately grow this wonderful game for future generations to enjoy, either as a spectator, player or volunteer.”
As part of the deal the BBC will broadcast Wales, Scotland and France home matches, while ITV will show England, Ireland and Italy home games.
There are 15 games in each year of the Six Nations and the BBC will have eight and ITV seven in 2016, but the tally will be reversed the following year.
“The Six Nations is unique, providing a rich and respected rivalry, with many or the world’s best players at the very pinnacle of their careers, playing for their countries with pride and in the right spirit,” chief executive of the Six Nations John Feehan said in a statement.
“This agreement with two major broadcasters will ensure that all these aspects are reflected in the coverage for the fans to enjoy.”
Ireland retained this year’s Six Nations title on points difference and 9.63 million viewers tuned in to watch England battle with France in the championship’s free-scoring climax, surpassing the previous record of 9.56 million when the same teams met in 2011.
The BBC Sport website also recorded its highest ever traffic, with 8.22 million unique UK browsers, beating the previous online record of 8.03 million during the London Olympics in 2012.
ITV holds the exclusive rights to the Rugby World Cup, which is being staged in England this year.
England host Fiji at Twickenham in the opening game of the tournament on Sept. 18.