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World Rugby has announced details of an extensive broadcast partnership with ITV that will see the broadcaster exclusively showcase World Rugby's biggest 15s properties.
Under a bumper deal, ITV will perform the role of UK rights holding broadcaster for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan and Rugby World Cup 2023.
The agreement also features Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 in Ireland and the annual World Rugby U20 Championship between 2017-19, representing the first time that two of the sport's most exciting properties will be available on free-to-air platforms.
The deal following a highly-competitive and robust selection process reflects the stature of the Rugby World Cup brand as one of the most sought after rights in sport within a market that continues to demonstrate record audience and rights demand growth.
As host broadcaster, ITV was at the heart of a record-breaking Rugby World Cup in 2015, producing the world and domestic feeds for the 48 matches hosted in England and Cardiff. The deal extends the broadcaster's partnership with rugby's showcase global event to eight editions.
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.”
The United Kingdom and Ireland markets were at the heart of the success story with Rugby World Cup programming achieving heavyweight viewing figures across both markets and broadcasters reporting strong ad sales returns. With rugby continuing to achieve record participation and interest growth around the world, the audience looks set to grow over the next two editions.
In the UK, host broadcaster ITV achieved peak audiences reaching 11.5m for England's matches against Fiji, Wales and Australia and the final. The total UK three-minute reach was 40.2 million, while the 15-minute reach was just under 34 million, demonstrating just how Rugby World Cup 2015 captured the imagination across the host nation.
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."
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.”
Rugby World Cup 2019 will be the first edition of rugby's premier event to feature a specialist independent host broadcaster, reflecting World Rugby's commitment to the highest standards of innovation and consistency between tournaments, while enabling new innovations and fan-engagement priorities to be delivered.