A BBC spokeswoman declined to comment last night on such speculation. Despite the recent raids by its rivals, the corporation retains the rights to Wimbledon, the Open golf championship and the University Boat Race. But the deal that the BBC has to show the Five Nations rugby union championship - central to its Grandstand programme - runs out in March 1997, and already the predators are circling.
The BBC's current deal is worth pounds 27m over three years. But BBC executives already know that they will have to bid a great deal more to renew it: BSkyB has offered pounds 175m for a five-year deal, and the Rugby Football Union has refused to rule out dealing with them. Tony Hallett, the RFU secretary, said at the weekend: "Everything has its price. If that figure were to be doubled, it would be hard to resist."
All may not be lost to the BBC. It may have lost the Cheltenham Festival to Channel 4 but the Wimbledon tennis championships, is safe with the corporation until 1999 under a deal struck last year. The tennis establishment is moved as much by image and presentation as they are by money, so it is by no means inevitable that that the BBC will lose out when the current deal runs out.
Rugby's bosses, of necessity, are more mercenary. And because the sport's ABC1 target audience is a mouth-watering prospect for advertisers, there is little doubt that the satellite station will be able to raise the ante even further: even as high as the pounds 300m-plus that the RFU is looking for. It may not be long before Bill McLaren goes the same way as the McLaren Formula One team.Reuse content