ITV will continue to broadcast live coverage of the Rugby World Cup for the next two tournaments after agreeing a new deal to extend its association with rugby union’s biggest global event beyond 30 years.
The free-to-air broadcaster’s renewal with the sport’s governing body World Rugby includes exclusive UK rights for the 2019 tournament in Japan as well as the 2023 edition, which could be staged in either Ireland, France or South Africa.
In addition, ITV’s new deal also includes live coverage of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, which will be held in Ireland August 2017, and three editions annual World Rugby Under-20 Championship from 2017 to 2019, marking the first time that live matches from these two events have been shown by ITV and on nationwide free-to-air platforms.
In a report by the Daily Telegraph in March 2016, ITV emerged victorious from the bidding process after auction rivals Sky chose to pass on the rights for the 2019 edition in Japan, but attempt to snatch those for 2023, where games will be played at peak viewing times in the UK.
The multi-million pound deal extends ITV’s exclusive partnership with the Rugby World Cup to 32 years and nine consecutive tournaments, having broadcast every edition since 1991.
Niall Sloane, ITV Director of Sport, said: “The Rugby World Cup has become a prime fixture every four years on ITV, so, following such a successful tournament in 2015, we’re delighted to be able to announce we will continue to be the competition’s home until 2023.
“And our new deal kicks off with exclusive coverage of the women’s tournament in Ireland later this year, which, along with the rights to the World Rugby U20 Championship, broadens our association with elite rugby.
“Rugby World Cup 2015 was the most widely viewed rugby event ever, the live audience for Rugby World Cup 2015 increased by a factor of 48 per cent over the last edition in New Zealand, with live viewership through 106 broadcasters reaching nearly 724 million homes worldwide.”
As host broadcaster, ITV was at the heart of a record-breaking Rugby World Cup in 2015 and received critical acclaim for its production and domestic coverage of the 48 matches hosted in England, the majority of which were broadcast live on the main ITV network, and achieved peak audiences reaching 11.5m for England’s matches against Fiji, Wales and Australia and the final.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “We are delighted to be partnering with ITV in an exciting long-term deal that will showcase our biggest 15s events, including Rugby World Cup, Women’s Rugby World Cup and our annual World Rugby U20 Championship, to a free-to-air audience in the UK.
“As host broadcaster and a free-to-air giant, ITV was at the heart of the success story, bringing fans closer to what was the best-attended, most-viewed, most-competitive and most socially-engaged Rugby World Cup ever and while this was a highly-competitive process for one of rugby’s most prized broadcast rights, we were impressed by ITV’s passion for the sport and continued broadcast innovation.
“Great events are built on great partnerships and we are excited to be working with ITV to further fan experience and rugby growth within the UK over the next seven years.”
World Rugby Chief Commercial Officer Murray Barnett added: “Securing free-to-air coverage for the Rugby World Cup, Women’s Rugby World Cup and U20 Championship on ITV guarantees sports fans in the UK will be able to see all of World Rugby’s major events for many years to come.
“ITV’s continued commitment to the pinnacle events on the rugby calendar are a testament to a sport that continues to attract audiences and fans in record numbers.”
The 2019 Rugby World Cup will also be the first edition of the tournament to feature a specialist independent host broadcaster, in a similar fashion to football World Cups and Olympic Games, with World Rugby aiming to deliver “the highest standards of innovation and consistency between tournaments”.