BT and Premiership Rugby have announced one of the biggest broadcast deals in the history of English club rugby, signing a contract worth up to £152 million for a range of exclusive live rights over a four year period.
In a ground-breaking new broadcast deal, BT will have the exclusive live rights to show Aviva Premiership Rugby for the next four years, as well as the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Sevens series, from the 2013/14 season.
BT has also been given exclusive rights to matches played by Premiership clubs in any future European competitions from 2014/15 for three years, though this part of the deal has been questioned by the ERC, the organisers of both premier European club competitions, who claim that the English Premiership’s governing body does not have the authority to distribute the rights.
Live Aviva Premiership matches are currently split between ESPN and Sky Sports, so the new deal means that rugby fans will be able to catch all of the excitement of the Aviva Premiership in one place from next season (2013/14).
The value of the deal has been significantly boosted by Premiership Rugby giving BT additional live matches involving English clubs in European competitions from 2014, whether they will continue to play in the Heineken Cup or form their own competitions with the French Top 14 clubs (see below).
However the ERC, organisers of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup, have announced a conflicting new four-year deal broadcast deal with Sky Sports on the same day.
Regardless, the new rights deal means that see Sky and ESPN lose its coverage of the Aviva Premiership from 2013.
“This is a game-changing agreement and will deliver a service that I know our club supporters will enjoy,” said Mark McCafferty, Chief Executive of Premiership Rugby, the umbrella organisation of the Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs.
“We are delighted to have concluded our discussions with such an ambitious partner that will help bring Premiership Rugby to new audiences.
“BT is a company at the cutting edge of technology and that is one of the reasons it makes them such an exciting broadcast partner for Premiership Rugby.
“We will develop a broad partnership. As well as showing the live games, BT will assist us in further upgrading the technical infrastructure of our clubs’ stadia and by building Community programmes with us.”
Details of the agreement, which is worth up to £152m, includes exclusive live rights to:
• Up to 69 matches Aviva Premiership matches per season, starting from the 2013/14 season
• Matches involding Premiership teams in any future European competitions for three years starting from the 2014/15 season (TBC)
• J.P. Morgan Asset Management Sevens Series for four years starting from the 2013/14 season
The new deal for Aviva Premiership rugby and selected European matches comes after BT secured live Barclays Premier League matches in June, a deal which also begins at the start of the 2013/14 season.
Marc Watson, chief executive of BT Vision added: “BT is delighted to have secured this deal. Rugby Union is entering a thrilling phase with the World Cup being staged here in 2015 and rugby returning to the Olympics in 2016.
“We plan to bring the excitement of the very best matches to as wide an audience as possible. We will also be bringing all of the action together in one place and will look to distribute it on a variety of platforms.”
“BT is serious about sport and this deal means we will be offering the very best rugby action alongside some of the most thrilling football matches from the Premier League. That is a winning combination and one that will appeal to fans of both sports.”
Premiership rugby has also confirmed that BT will look to distribute on a variety of platforms on TV and online, including freeview/youview, satellite, BT’s broadband network, as well as in selected pubs and clubs. More details of their distribution will be announced shortly.
As a result of the new BT deal, clubs in the 12-team Premiership could receive an average increase of 50 percent to their TV income from the new deal, a Premiership Rugby spokesman said.
BT will use its customer network to promote the sport further and will work with clubs to improve the infrastructure at their stadia, but the company faces criticism from customers who will have to endure price-rises of up to 25% on its services, a direct consequence of BT stepping into the expensive TV sports rights market.
The new deal ends Sky’s coverage of the English Premiership, a league which it has broadcast since 1994, as well as ESPN’s link with the competition having shared live rights with BSkyB since 2010.
Sky will still have exclusive rights to England’s home tests at Twickenham (excluding Six Nations fixtures), foreign tours and Lions tours, but rugby union will no longer have a weekly presence on its sports channels.
There is uncertainty over the future of European club rugby competitions after Premiership Rugby sold the rights to matches involving English clubs in European competitions to BT.
Under the current arrangement, the ERC negotiates all the TV deals for European club rugby competitions and they announced a new four-year contract with BSkyB, which conflicts with the deal announced by BT and Premiership Rugby.
In a statement on the BT deal, ERC said: “ERC has raised questions over a purported deal by Premiership Rugby to sell the UK broadcast rights to European club rugby tournaments.
“While awaiting further information regarding Premiership Rugby’s proposed agreement with BT, the ERC Board, which met in Dublin today, believes that any such agreement would be in breach both of IRB regulations and of a mandate from the ERC Board itself.
“European club rugby’s six participant Unions have granted the authority to sell broadcast rights to its tournaments solely to ERC.”
The impending row stems from reports that English clubs and their French counterparts are unhappy with the current structure of the two European competitions.
Both sides have given two years’ notice to the ERC that they will pull their clubs out of both competition unless changes are made to reduce the size of the competitions from 24 teams to 20, and qualification to be based on finishing positions in the three leagues that supply the sides (Aviva Premiership, Top 14 and RaboDirect Pro 12).