The BBC will continue to broadcast live coverage of the University Boat Race until at least 2021 after signing a new seven-year deal to keep one of Britain’s longest running sporting events on free-to-air television.
As part of the new deal with The Boat Race Company Ltd for the annual rowing contest between Oxford and Cambridge universities, the corporation will continue to screen the men’s Boat Race as well as, for the first time, the Women’s Boat Race live, starting in 2015.
Next year marks an historic year as the Women’s Boat Race moves to the Tideway where crews will compete on the same day and on the same course as the Men’s Race for the first time in history.
One the world’s most historic sporting contests, the first race took with place in 1829 and has been held every year since 1856, except during the First and Second World Wars, with the contest taking place on the Putney to Mortlake stretch of the Thames, a distance of four miles, 374 yards.
The BBC plays a crucial role in delivering the Boat Race to a global audience in what is one of the most technical and challenging broadcasts that BBC Sport undertakes each year.
Live coverage of the women’s event is set to add a fresh dimension to Boat Race day from 2015, which has traditionally been held over 2,000m one week before the men’s edition, on a different part of the River Thames.
Women’s rowing received a huge boost at London 2012 when three crews won gold medals and a cash injection from a new sponsorship deal meant rowers from both universities would no longer have to raise money themselves to pay for kit and training camps.
Following discussions between the universities, it was then agreed to hold both races on the same day and bring the event into the modern era, and as a result from 2015, the women will go from racing a straight 2,000m course to negotiating the bends and tides of the Thames over 7,000m.
Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport, said: “The Boat Race is an important part of our sport portfolio; combining modern high-quality broadcasting with this most traditional and much-loved competition.
“We are delighted to announce that we will be bringing full coverage of the Women’s Boat Race to our audiences, from 2015, as it joins the men’s event on the Tideway.”
Commenting on the new contract, David Searle of BRCL, said: “This relationship highlights the global reach that both the BNY Mellon Boat Race and Newton Women’s Boat Race have and the desire to watch the race unfold worldwide.
“Last year saw in excess of seven million UK TV viewers and many millions more around the world.
“We are very grateful for all the work the BBC do surrounding the event and are delighted at their continued commitment to Boat Race Day.”
A British sporting institution that still continues to attract high TV audiences, the Boat Race was covered by BBC TV for more than six decades from 1938 to 2004, while the BBC first covered it on radio in 1927.
In a surprise move a decade ago, the rights transferred to ITV for five years, from 2005 to 2009, but the event returned to the corporation in 2010 after the commercial broadcaster opted against retaining the rights due to the high production costs.
The 2014 Boat Race takes place on Sunday, April 6, at 5.55pm and will be broadcast live on BBC One and BBC One HD from 4.30pm.
Clare Balding will present the BBC’s live coverage with Matthew Pinsent and Helen Skelton reporting out on the course..
Andrew Cotter will lead the commentary team and will be joined by former Oxford rower and coach, Daniel Topolski and former winning Cambridge president Wayne Pommen.
Live commentary and coverage will also be available on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, which will take a simulcast of the TV commentary for the first time in 2014, and the BBC Sport website.