Despite fears of new investment meaning a dive further behind paywalls for televised rugby, the sport has rediscovered the benefits of free-to-air TV with an agreement between the British and Irish Lions and Channel 4 seeing a return of their games to free TV for the first time since 1993.
It follows hot on the heels of the agreement reached in principle on Monday that the Guinness Six Nations will be shown live in Ireland across Virgin media and RTÉ.
Live coverage of the Lions, who are sponsored this summer for the first time by Vodafone, will return to terrestrial television for the first time in nearly 30 years with Channel 4’s broadcast of the Vodafone Lions 1888 Cup against Japan.
In addition, to live coverage of the pre-Tour Test match against Japan from BT Murrayfield on 26 June, Channel 4 will also show highlights of all three Tests against South Africa.
The live coverage will still be on Sky Sports, forming a major plank of their summer programming against the Euro 2020 Finals and the Olympic Games both of which will also be free to air in Ireland and across Britain.
It’s the latest coup from Channel 4 Sport which earlier this year brought free-to-air live Test cricket back to television screens after a 16-year break with its coverage of England’s our in India.
“We are delighted that Channel 4 are our broadcast partners for our first match on home soil since 2005,” said Lions managing Director Ben Calveley.
“I am looking forward to the excellent coverage and analysis that Channel 4 will no doubt provide and going on the recent squad announcement I’m sure the interest and numbers tuning in will be considerable for this clash.”
“This is set to be a mouth-watering contest with Alun Wyn Jones leading the Lions against the reigning World Champions,” added Channel 4’s Head of Sport Pete Andrews.
“It’s fantastic news for rugby fans who will relish the opportunity of seeing the British & Irish Lions in action on free-to-air television.”
The Lions matches, presented by Lee McKenzie, are the latest addition to Channel 4’s rugby portfolio which includes live coverage of the Heineken Champions Cup Final between La Rochelle and Toulouse on 22 May and live coverage of Ireland’s Autumn Internationals against the All Blacks, Argentina and another country, yet to be confirmed.
It may also see a return to the live microphone for Ryle Nugent who has been doing commentary work with the channel on some of their games.
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