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Pro14 closing in on rights announcement as BBC admits defeat

The Pro14 cross-border rugby union league has said it is concluding talks over its next set of rights in the UK and Ireland, as the Welsh division of public-service broadcaster the BBC said it has been outbid in its effort to retain live coverage.

The Pro14 currently has deals with multiple broadcasters across the UK and Ireland over four seasons, from 2014-15 to 2017-18, and has been marketing its rights over a new five-season cycle, from 2018-19 to 2022-23.

BBC Wales has said its live rights to the Pro14 will end after the current campaign, meaning viewers will no longer be able to watch regional games on free-to-air television in English.

The broadcaster said in a statement: “We're proud of our record of covering live Pro14 rugby across television, radio and online and we offered a significantly increased financial bid in order to safeguard these rights on a free-to-air basis for hundreds of thousands of viewers in Wales, and across the UK.

“We know there will be a real disappointment at this outcome among hundreds of thousands of rugby fans who have enjoyed live free-to-air coverage on the BBC over many years.”

The Pro14 is widely reported to have awarded the rights to a pay-television broadcaster for the next contract, with Premier Sports having been heavily linked to a deal in the past.

In a statement, the league said: “After the successful expansion into South Africa the Guinness Pro14 is continuing to grow in strength with unprecedented interest leading to rising attendances, increased broadcast viewers and an upsurge in social media engagement.

“As Pro14 Rugby plans for the exciting seasons ahead, the championship has overseen a highly-competitive tender process with multiple pay and free-to-air operators across the UK & Republic of Ireland bidding for the broadcast rights in those territories.

“Pro14 Rugby is currently concluding negotiations for these rights ahead of the 2018-19 season and will confirm the final position to partners and supporters once the formal agreements are in place.”