The BBC secured the rights to the entire Six Nations rugby championship for a knockdown £70m last night.
The three-year contract, beginning with the 2002-03 championship, is a coup for the corporation after losing the rights to many prestigious sporting events in recent years. The BBC has lost Premiership football, Test cricket, Formula One racing and the Ryder Cup to other broadcasters.
It means the BBC will show all of England's games at Twickenham – previously only screened on Sky – and in France for the first time since 1997.
As the value of sporting rights has gone into freefall because of the advertising recession and the failure of digital television, the BBC has stepped in to pick up the pieces.
Last week the BBC reclaimed the rights to the Football League with a £95m four-year deal in partnership with BSkyB after the collapse of ITV Digital.
Leading figures within the Rugby Football Union are disappointed with the £70m received for the sport's premier competition. In 1996 the RFU went alone and sold the rights to its games only for £87.5m in a five-deal with Sky.
The Six Nations governing committee had demanded £100m from the BBC but the corporation insisted that it could not be justified when audience figures for last season's matches showed that, although England's matches attracted four million viewers, the other fixtures generally attracted half that number.
Allan Hosie, the Six Nations chairman, admitted: "Concluding a deal in the current market has not been without its challenges. This package, given all the circumstances, is a credit to our negotiating team."
Earlier this week the competition lost its title sponsor when Lloyds TSB announced it was withdrawing its support after five years.
A multimillion-pound marketing and publicity campaign promised in the BBC contract will be vital to secure new sponsors. The BBC will also help the Six Nations committee with grassroots initiatives designed to encourage youngsters to take up the sport.
Peter Salmon, the director of BBC Sport, said: "The Six Nations is a unique competition that brings the British Isles together, and we are delighted to have the whole championship back on the BBC.
"Our innovative new approach will help build the profile of this prestigious tournament and ensure fans can follow the tournament more easily.
"Working with the Six Nations committee we want to create modern heroes in the sport, who will inspire current and future generations of fans and viewers.
"We intend to use the full range of BBC services, programmes and a multimillion-pound marketing campaign to achieve this."
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