The BBC will remain as the principal broadcaster of the Carnegie Challenge Cup, after signing new four-year deal to cover rugby league’s oldest and most prestigious knockout competition.
The deal with the RFL ensures that the Carnegie Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium will continue to be broadcast exclusively live on BBC One until 2016.
BBC TV will also broadcast live matches from the fourth and fifth rounds, quarter-finals and semi-finals for the duration of the contract.
However the amount of live BBC games in the fourth and fifth rounds has been cut from two matches to just one match per round.
Sky Sports will also show live Challenge Cup games for the first time under the new deal.
The pay-TV broadcaster will broadcast one match from rounds four and five, as well the other two quarter-finals that the BBC are not screening live. Sky will also screen highlights of the semi-finals and the final from Wembley.
Neville Smith, executive producer of Sky Sports Rugby League said: “We welcome the Challenge Cup matches to our portfolio of live Rugby League on Sky Sports which will complement our regular Super League programming nicely.”
The Challenge Cup final is one of a selection of ‘crown jewels’ events, including the FA Cup Final and the Olympics, that must be shown live on free-to-air television.
Last year’s final between Wigan Warriors and Leeds Rhinos was watched by an average TV audience of 1.61m, a 19% increase on the corresponding figure from 2010.
Viewing figures for the new-look BBC Super League Show, presented by Tanya Arnold, have also increased to more than double what they were in 2011, according to BBC figures.
The show has been placed in a new regular timeslot of 11.35pm every Monday night on BBC One in four northern regions, as well as being shown nationally in a late-night slot on BBC Two and via the BBC’s popular iPlayer service.
In the week when the corporation lost the rights to show horse racing to Channel 4, ending their 60-year involvement with the sport, the new rugby league deal has been welcomed by the BBC’s Director of Sport Barbara Slater.
“The BBC has been the proud broadcast partner of the Challenge Cup for over half a century so we’re delighted to be continuing our long and successful relationship with the RFL,” she said.
“Rugby League forms a key part of the BBC’s rights portfolio and through our new four year deal we’re look forward to ensuring this prestigious and fiercely contested tournament reaches an ever growing audience.”
In recent times the BBC has struggled to compete with its rivals in bidding for TV rights, following a 15% cut to its sports budget.
But despite the loss of racing, the French Open, and exclusive Masters golf and Formula 1 rights over the past 18 months, the BBC has secured long term deals for the Six Nations, Wimbledon and rugby league, as well as regaining the World Athletics Championships from 2015.
RFL Chairman Richard Lewis said: “It gives me great pleasure to confirm that the Challenge Cup will remain on the BBC for the next five years.
“The Challenge Cup has a rich heritage and I am delighted that the competition’s long association with the BBC is to continue.
“The visibility and profile afforded by the sport’s presence on the BBC and the BBC iPlayer is hugely important and we look forward to working with the BBC as they showcase all the excitement and drama from the Carnegie Challenge Cup and Stobart Super League.”
TV deals for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, which will be primarily hosted by England and Wales, and future Four Nations tournaments are set to be confirmed at a later date.