RUGBY UNION: Sky Sports announces new four-year European rugby deal

Sky Sports has announced a new four-year deal with the ERC for exclusive live coverage of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup.

The extended contract starts in the autumn of 2014, and will extend the long-standing relationship with the ERC to the end of the 2017/2018 season, a 15th year.

ERC’s new deal with Sky comes on the same day that BT won exclusive rights to screen Aviva Premiership matches from 2013, as well as selected matches from European competitions involving English clubs from 2014, but this part of the agreement has been questioned by the ERC who claim that it breaches International Rugby Board (IRB) regulations.

Under the new ERC deal, Sky Sports will continue to hold exclusive live rights to the Heineken Cup, including exclusive live matches from each of the first six rounds, plus all knockout stages and finals for a further four seasons, up to 2018.

Amlin Challenge Cup matches will also be shown exclusively live on Sky Sports, including coverage of matches in the opening rounds, knockout stages, both semi-finals and the final.

The new agreement continues a series of major rights deals for Sky Sports over the last 18 months, including Premier League and Champions League football, English cricket, golf and Formula 1.

Announcing the extended deal, Barney Francis, Managing Director of Sky Sports, said: “This new deal with the ERC gives us live European Rugby for another four seasons.

“We have been pleased to be partners with the ERC for over a decade and see their tournaments grow.

“This is rugby of the highest quality and these competitions give our viewers over 60 live games across eight months.

“The Heineken Cup and Amlin Cup will continue to line up with our exclusive live coverage of the British & Irish Lions, England’s autumn internationals and the best rugby from the southern hemisphere.”

ERC Chief Executive Derek McGrath said, “Over the past 10 years Sky Sports has made a major contribution to the development of European club rugby and ERC is delighted to be able to extend our partnership for a further four seasons until 2018.

“Sky Sports’ innovative coverage and commitment has greatly enhanced the game in Europe and we look forward to working together over the next six seasons as the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup reaches new heights.”

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The new Sky/ERC deal conflicts with the deal announced just hours earlier by Premiership Rugby that they had given BT exclusive rights to matches involving English clubs in European competitions from 2014.

The impending row stems from reports that English clubs and their French counterparts are unhappy with the current structure of the two European competitions, who believe that the current format is weighted too heavily in favour of the Celtic clubs.

Both sides have given two years’ notice to the ERC that they will pull their clubs out of both competition unless changes are made, with the English and French clubs threatening to form their own rival breakaway European competition.

They want a reduction to 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).

In a statement, ERC questioned the new BT deal: “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.”

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