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SBD Global/September 13, 2012/Media

BT Vision Acquires Premiership Rugby TV Rights From Sky Sports

Premiership rugby clubs, such as the Sale Sharks, will move from Sky Sports to BT.
Premiership rugby "will be broadcast on BT Vision from next season" on after the telecom giant paid £152M ($245M) for a four-year contract to snatch the rights away from Sky Sports, according to Josh Burrows of the LONDON TIMES. BT, which is buying more sports content to bolster its proposition, said that "it would show up to 69 Aviva Premiership rugby matches and the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Sevens from next season." It will also "show matches played by Aviva Premiership clubs in European competitions" for three years from '14-15 (LONDON TIMES, 9/12). Also in London, Katherine Rushton reported analysts said that Premiership Rugby "had taken a gamble by handing the games to a relatively unknown broadcaster," which operates the BT Vision TV platform but has yet to launch a dedicated sports channel. However, they added that the size of BT’s investment "signaled its determination to make a success of its television service." A source said, "You’re either in premium sport or you’re not. You have got to have a compelling all-round offer, and they have made a pretty bold shift. They are not mopping up motor Raleigh or sheep herding. They are going after serious stuff, and this will hurt BSkyB" (TELEGRAPH, 9/12). The London GURADIAN's Paul Rees wrote that English clubs, along with their leading French counterparts, gave notice this year that they "would withdraw from the Heineken Cup when the current deal expires at the end of next season." They want the way the European competitions are run to be "altered radically" (GUARDIAN, 9/12).

SHARING THE WEALTH: The FINANCIAL TIMES' Daniel Thomas wrote that BT "will offer rivals such as Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Sky the chance to show the games on a wholesale basis. BT Vision CEO Marc Watson said: “We will be bringing all of the action together in one place and will look to distribute it on a variety of platforms." The company is looking for a production company to help develop its sports channel (FINANCIAL TIMES, 9/12). In N.Y., Lilly Vitorovich wrote on the Wall Street Journal's Tech Europe blog a BT spokesperson said that BT Vision plans to launch a sports channel next summer to showcase its newly bought football and rugby matches, and is "keeping an open mind" on other sporting rights as they come up. Investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein Analyst Robin Bienenstock said, "BT appears to be ramping up, not down, its competitive stance towards BSkyB" (WSJ.com, 9/12).

HOLDING THE CONTINENT: Sky Sports has agreed to a new four-year deal with the ERC for exclusive live coverage of European Rugby competitions. The new deal for the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup continues a series of major rights renewals for Sky Sports over the last 18 months. The extended contract starts in the fall of '14, after the current deal, and will extend the long-standing relationship with the ERC to the end of the '17-18 season, a 15th year. Under the new ERC deal Sky Sports will continue to hold exclusive live right to:
  • THE HEINEKEN CUP: Exclusive live matches from each of the first four rounds, plus all knockout stages and finals for a further four seasons, across the U.K. and Ireland.
  • AMLIN CHALLENGE CUP: Exclusive live coverage of matches in the opening rounds, knockout stages, both semifinals and the final across the U.K. and Ireland (Sky Sports).

But in London, John Westerby reported the new contract sent European rugby into "a state of chaos" and left the future of the Heineken "in serious doubt." ERC, the organizer of the Heineken Cup, accused Premiership clubs "of breaching International Rugby Board regulations by negotiating television rights unilaterally." ERC insists it has the sole authority to negotiate for the televising of European matches. Shortly after the new Premiership deal was announced, ERC said it had agreed a new four-year deal with Sky Sports to screen Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup matches exclusively. That, clearly, would be impossible if English clubs have their own arrangement with a rival broadcaster (LONDON TIMES, 9/12).

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