Sky is said to be closing in on a £300m deal for the broadcast rights to the Six Nations in a controversial move that could wipe the rugby tournament from terrestrial TV.
The tender process for the new broadcasting contract is set to close when this year’s tournament wraps up on 14 March, with Sky tipped as the frontrunner.
BBC and ITV hold the current contract — valued at £90m — until 2021 after teaming up to outbid Sky at the last auction in 2016.
But the Six Nations has told the public service broadcasters that no joint bid will be allowed, the Rugby Paper reported, though no reason has been given for imposing the condition.
Six Nations Rugby Limited, which is run by top figures from each of the countries’ rugby unions, is said to be bundling the fixtures together with the autumn internationals and the pre-World Cup warm ups.
The beefed up package, which takes effect from November next year, would allow the company to secure the largest broadcasting contract in rugby history.
BT, which has previously tussled with Sky over football rights, could also be a bidder, while Amazon may look to extend its sports broadcasting credentials following its recent move into the Premier League.
It comes as the Six Nations looks to finalise a separate deal with private equity firm CVC, which is buying a 15 per cent stake in the competition organiser for £300m.
The talks have been held up by a disagreement over broadcasting rights, the Guardian reported last month, as the home unions push for the tournament to remain on free-to-air TV.
A successful bid by Sky would likely spark a debate over the Six Nations’ status as a listed sporting event.
The rugby round-robin is currently in group B of the government’s listed events, meaning terrestrial broadcasters are guaranteed secondary rights. Upgrading it to group A — meaning rights would be off-limits for pay-TV operators — would benefit ITV and the BBC.
However, the Welsh Rugby Union has argued that moving the competition to group A would reduce exposure to live rugby and therefore harm the sport.
One potential solution would be a hybrid package that would divide Six Nations games between free-to-air broadcasters and pay-TV.
Six Nations and CVC have been contacted for comment. Sky declined to comment.