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Reports suggest Lions coverage to return to free-view-TV

Free-to-air broadcaster Channel 4 is reportedly close to further increasing their sports rights portfolio by signing a deal for highlights of the British & Irish Lions rugby union series against South Africa.

The Daily Telegraph is reporting that Channel 4 is in advanced negotiations with the Lions to broadcast a highlights package of every game from the series.

If the deal is agreed, it will mean the Lions will be shown on terrestrial television for the first time since commercial broadcaster ITV broadcast the 1993 tour of New Zealand.

In July last year, pay-television broadcaster Sky acquired exclusive rights in the UK and Ireland to the 2021 Lions series. Sky has shown the six previous Lions’ tours dating back to 1997.

Channel 4 hit the headlines last month when it completed a deal for free-to-air rights to England’s ongoing tour of India, bringing live Test cricket to UK free-to-air television for the first time since 2005.

At present it is unclear where the Lions v South Africa series will be held. Rugby Australia last week offered a minimum guarantee to cover the costs of the forthcoming tour, and return a profit, in what was said to be a potentially decisive move in efforts to provide a new home for the series.

Rugby Australia’s offer of a minimum guarantee, which The Telegraph reported has government backing, is said to provide for a profitable return for both the Lions and the South African Rugby Union, even in the event of a match going behind closed doors due to a Covid-19 lockdown.

The offer comes as SA Rugby and Lions officials continue to grapple with the challenges of staging this year’s series in South Africa during Covid-19. The tour is due to begin on July 3 with a match against Super Rugby side the Stormers in Cape Town, and will culminate with three Test matches against South Africa on July 24, July 31 and August 7.

Retaining the tour in South Africa, or moving it to the UK and Ireland are said to be the other options on the table.

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