BBC Sport has agreed a deal with the RFL that will see the corporation continue to televise the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup on free-to-air television until at least 2020.
The deal, which also includes weekly highlights of the First Utility Super League, ensures that the Challenge Cup final, one of TV sport’s protected ‘crown jewel’ events, will continue to be broadcast live on the BBC into the next decade.
In addition to the showpiece final at Wembley every August, the BBC will also continue broadcast live matches in the sixth round, quarter-finals and semi-finals for the duration of the contract.
The announcement of the new BBC deal comes just a few days after the 2015 final between the Leeds Rhinos and Hull Kingston Rovers, which was broadcast live on BBC One and attracted a crowd of 80,140 to Wembley Stadium, the highest attendance since 2010.
Live Challenge Cup coverage and weekly Super League highlights through to 2020 adds to BBC Sport’s free-to-air rugby league portfolio, which also includes England’s series against New Zealand in November, the 2016 Four Nations and the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, which is being staged in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Barbara Slater, BBC Director of Sport, said: “We’re delighted to renew our contract with the RFL and our commitment to this most prestigious of competitions.
“Rugby League is much loved by our audiences and a key part of our output, with our coverage of the Challenge Cup, the Super League, live radio commentaries and extensive online coverage combining to showcase the sport to the widest possible audiences.
“In addition the BBC brings live international action, with forthcoming coverage of the Autumn tests, the 2016 Four Nations and the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood said: “The Challenge Cup has a rich heritage and I am delighted that we have agreed a deal with the BBC that ensures one of the major national sporting events of the year will continue to be watched by millions of fans across the country
“We are a sport that is enjoyed by a wide range of people from across the UK and we want to ensure that as many of them as possible enjoy watching it.”
As well as extensive TV coverage of rugby league over the next five years, the new deal with the RFL will also see Super League and Challenge Cup coverage continue on BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 5 live sports extra.
The BBC, which broke new ground this year by televising a semi-final on a Friday night, is known to be keen on shifting the Challenge Cup back to the spring but any move of the final to May or June is unlikely to be made before 2017.