Rugby World Cup 2019 could make a shock move to a paid television channel for the first time as World Rugby chiefs consider bidding rights for 2019.
Sky Sports, BT Sport and beIN Sports are reportedly interested in launching a bid for the competition which proved a big hit with viewers in 2015. BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are also said to be considering offers for the Japan tournament which must be made before Friday’s deadline, though not all are guaranteed to do so.
The World Cup final is considered a crown jewel of sport and is protected under UK law for free-to-air TV, but organisers World Rugby can consider bids from subscription operators for the tournament itself.
The competition has always been shown on terrestrial TV since the BBC broadcast the first one from New Zealand in 1987. ITV then took over and have broadcast every one since, including the 2011 and 2015 editions after bidding £60m to ward off Sky.
“It would be a big deal (to sell the rights to pay television),” World Rugby’s head of broadcasting told The Times.
“Any recommendation we make will have to have sound reasoning behind it.
“Revenue from the World Cup is important, but it is also a chance once every four years to grow the game and exposure is very important.
“We don’t have a predetermined view where the nexus is. We want to see what the commitment is like.”
World Rugby is likely to allow the successful bidder to sub-license some of the rights – in the way that S4C were able to claim secondary rights in 2015 – which could lead to the tournament even being split between terrestrial and subscription.
The biggest viewing figure for one match in the 2015 tournament on ITV saw 11.5m viewers watch the England-Australia clash at Twickenham. By comparison, Sky recorded 4.6m viewers for the entire 2013 Lions tour.