LONDON: Rugby's 6 Nations tournament kicks off this weekend and, within the UK, advertisers are looking at a range of new opportunities made possible by the division of the broadcasting rights between the BBC and ITV.

Fresh from its coverage of last autumn's Rugby World Cup, commercial broadcaster ITV will show 6 Nations games for the first time, having partnered with the BBC to ensure the competition remains free to air.

The development opens the door for those brands not sponsoring either the tournament or individual teams to get a slice of the action in a sport whose popularity has surged following the Rugby World Cup.

"It is a really good opportunity to get to a premium audience and it is quite a hard audience to get to," according to Steve Martin, chief executive at M&S Saatchi Sport & Entertainment.

Data from RadiumOne confirm that rugby fans are overwhelming in the AB social grade (71%) and predominantly male (80%). But enthusiasm is not restricted to this group: its research shows that 57% of the UK is "interested in" the 6 Nations.

ITV has the rights to half the games and has signed a two-year sponsorship deal with automaker Peugeot, which will air sponsorship bumpers at the start and end of commercial breaks, while online ads and activation will also appear on the broadcaster's online and catch-up platform, The ITV Hub.

Martin cautioned that dividing games between broadcasters could lead to problems. "With split broadcast the audience sometimes find games hard to find and you have seen that with Sky and BT before where they have shared rights," he told Marketing.

"It will be interesting how they [BBC and ITV] dovetail each other. It is important both broadcasters help fuel the continuity and promote the whole thing rather than get into a massive competitive scenario."

England team sponsor O2 will not be advertising on TV, Marketing reported, as it thinks its branding on the team's shirts will give it the necessary TV exposure. Instead, it will focus on digital marketing activity, a media partnership and out-of-home marketing.

North of the border, meanwhile, soft drinks firm AG Barr has just signed up as an official sponsor of Scottish Rugby.

Data sourced from Marketing, RadiumOne, Campaign, The Drum; additional content by Warc staff