Cementing the corporation’s commitment to rugby league over the next four years, BBC TV will broadcast live free-to-air coverage of at least 16 matches on BBC One or BBC Two, with the remaining matches available on Red Button and online.
The BBC’s full live coverage of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup represents a significant increase on its coverage of the event in 2013, which was also staged in England, where only matches featuring the hosts and the final were broadcast on terrestrial television.
The corporation will also provide extensive coverage of the 2017 tournament to be held in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea this autumn, as part of its comprehensive rugby league coverage throughout the year.
There will be the usual 40 weeks of coverage on network TV with the Super League Show and Challenge Cup programmes transmitted from February to October, as well as ongoing coverage on Radio 5 live and the BBC Sport website.
For the first time ever, the BBC will also show a match from every round of the Challenge Cup leading up to the final, with one match from the early rounds (one to five) to be streamed on the BBC Sport website bringing viewers the latest from the community game. The network televised matches on BBC One and BBC Two start in May from round six onwards.
The season culminates with the sport’s biggest showpiece – the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, kicking off on October 27 when England face Australia, with the 14-team tournament then spanning six weekends, reaching its climax with the final on December 2.
BBC Sport’s coverage will include every England match live on network television alongside action from Wales, Scotland, and Ireland plus regular TV highlights shows.
Commenting on the 2021 RLWC deal, Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport, said: “This is the biggest international event in the rugby league calendar and we’re delighted to have secured the rights to it, building on our extensive portfolio of the sport and this year’s World Cup down under.
“Securing comprehensive rights for the Rugby League World Cup 2021 in England means we will once again bring audiences to the heart of the action via first class coverage on the international stage, and unprecedented coverage of the event will be available on the BBC.”
In addition to claiming 2021 RLWC rights, the BBC has also appointed lead TV commentator Dave Woods as its first ever dedicated rugby league correspondent, with the new position seeing Wood’s work across all BBC platforms on a regular basis, breaking stories and bringing his wealth of expert analysis to the game.
Woods said: “As a child I used to dream about commentating at a rugby league final at Wembley, and nine years ago I was lucky enough to do that – but my new role at the BBC takes it to another level.
“It is a chance to show a diverse audience what a great sport rugby league is and I feel privileged to play a small part in maximising the BBC’s coverage across all their outlets.”
Rugby League World Cup 2021 bid lead Jon Dutton added: “We are delighted that the BBC will show all 31 games throughout the 2021 World Cup live.
“This is a very significant moment for the sport and will increase visibility and profile for the tournament like never before.
“Along with the appointment of Dave, the excellent coverage of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup, England games and Super League Show, the build-up to the World Cup in 2021 will create more compelling coverage across many platforms.”