Fellow rights holder ITV also said pay-TV speculation is ‘probably well founded’

Six Nations rugby trophy

Outgoing BBC Sport director Barbara Slater has admitted that the BBC may not be able to continue to afford the Six Nations broadcast rights.

The BBC currently shares the rights with ITV, in a deal that lasts until 2025 and includes the men’s, women’s and under-20s’ competitions. The Six Nations is not part of the listed events, despite traditionally being shown free-to-air.

However, speaking to the culture, media and sport select committee, Slater, who is set to retire after four decades at the BBC, said: “Sports rights in the UK have more than doubled in the past decade. BBC’s income in real terms has gone down 30%. It is incredibly difficult for the BBC to maintain, across a range of sports, the expectations of those governing bodies.”

She added on the Six Nations specifically, “With the Six Nations, like anything, we will have to assess the affordability at the time. Because it is very difficult for the BBC, on that trajectory of income, to continue to afford everything that we have. The truth is we’re probably not going to be the highest bidder, and it will come down to individual governing bodies as to how they balance that reach and revenue.”

ITV director of sport Niall Sloane added on the Rugby World Cup, which it currently airs, “I don’t think we’ve ever done a deal where there wasn’t speculation, and probably well-founded speculation, that it could, in some or in whole, go to a pay operator.

“But it’s less so with the Rugby World Cup because we’ve only done two deals in my time at ITV. I think they recognise that if you’re going to grow the game, something like the Rugby World Cup should be on free-to-air but there’s no guarantee of it whatsoever.”

Six Nations Rugby also runs the Autumn Nations Series, that ran in the summer this year due to the Rugby World Cup’s scheduling, which is shown by Prime Video in the UK and Ireland. TNT Sports shows domestic rugby in the UK, with the rights to both the men’s and women’s Premiership - you can read more about its plans for the men’s competition here.