Six Nations rugby will continue to be broadcast on the BBC until 2017, following the announcement of a four-year extension to the current deal.
The new contract extends BBC Sport’s partnership as the official broadcaster of the Six Nations Championship to 15 unbroken years, having held onto exclusive rights since 2003.
The deal covers all platforms, including TV, radio and online rights to the tournament which involves 15 matches between England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy over five weekends every spring.
This year’s Six Nations saw audiences increase to their highest level for 13 years, with an average of 4.7m viewers tuning in to watch every match, according to BBC figures.
More than 7m watched Ireland’s victory over England in the final round of this year’s tournament on BBC One, with a strong Saturday teatime audience share of more than 30%.
Audiences for every Six Nations covered by the BBC continue to increase year-on-year, and in total over 30m people within the British Isles watched some of this year’s tournament.
The corporation’s sports department has been restructuring its portfolio to focus on ‘crown jewel’ events, following 15% cuts imposed on its sports rights budget as part of director general Mark Thompson’s Delivering Quality First programme.
“The Six Nations is a crown jewel in the sporting calendar and we’re delighted that we can continue to bring the tournament to our audiences,” said BBC Director of Sport, Barbara Slater.
“Viewing figures continue to grow year-on-year and we look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the Six Nations to build interest even further through the BBC’s unparalleled offering of TV, radio, online and interactive services.”
Six Nations rugby returned exclusively to the BBC in 2003, after a brief spell when Sky held the rights to screen England’s home matches and their away fixture against France.
The Six Nations Committee, who negotiated the new rights deal with the corporation, were keen to maintain free-to-air coverage of the tournament.
John Feehan, Chief Executive, RBS 6 Nations, said: “We are delighted that BBC Sport will maintain, extend and enhance its coverage of the RBS 6 Nations, the world’s biggest annual rugby tournament, for a further four years to March 2017.
“The RBS 6 Nations is a major sporting event combining traditional rugby values with modern means of fans’ support, this could not be possible without the support of BBC Sport, RBS and our other partners and broadcasters.”
RBS Six Nations 2012 – Fixtures
Kick-off times statedSaturday 4th February France v Italy – 14:30 Scotland v England – 17:00 Sunday 5th February Ireland v Wales – 15:00 Saturday 11th February Italy v England – 16:00 France v Ireland – 20:00 Sunday 12th February Wales v Scotland – 15:00 Saturday 25th February Ireland v Italy – 13:30 England v Wales – 16:00 Sunday 26th February Scotland v France – 15:00 Saturday 10th March Wales v Italy – 14:30 Ireland v Scotland – 17:00 Sunday 11th March France v England – 15:00 Saturday 17th March Italy v Scotland – 12:30 Wales v France – 14:45 England v Ireland – 17:00 Every match live & exclusive on the BBC .