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EXCLUSIVE: Lions to relaunch UK free-to-air highlights tender in August

The British & Irish Lions rugby union body will restart the invitation to tender process in August for free-to-air highlights rights in the UK to next year’s Great Britain and Ireland tour of South Africa.

The tender, which was originally due to have been held early this year, was suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Lions told SportBusiness on Thursday.

The inventory includes the three tests against South Africa as well as the Lions’ five warm-up matches.

The Lions are targeting a decision on the award in the autumn.

The free-to-air highlights rights were carved out of the committee’s main live media-rights deal with pay-television broadcaster Sky, which was announced last week.

It is the first time that Lions has offered free-to-air rights in the UK directly to television broadcasters during Sky’s era of broadcasting the Tours. However, highlights of the Lions’ 2017 New Zealand tour were shown by Welsh-language public-service broadcaster S4C in a sublicensing deal with Sky.

Sky has shown the six previous Lions’ Tours dating back to 1997, with the Tours up until 1993 having been shown on free-to-air television in the UK.

The three Test matches are scheduled for July 24, July 31, and August 7. The warm-ups are scheduled for July 3-17.

The 2021 Tour dates clash with the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, which will now take place from July 23 to August 8. However, the Lions decided not to move the series as none of the matches will cross over with the Olympics due to time-zone differences. The Lions matches will kick-off 6pm South African time, which is 1am in Tokyo.

The Lions’ previous test-match series against South Africa was in 2009.