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SBD Global/February 17, 2014/Media

Sky, BT Sport In Talks Over Future Of European Rugby But No Deal Close

A "key broadcasting arrangement between Sky and BT Sport that could save European club rugby is in the process of being brokered" by Rugby Football Union CEO Ian Ritchie, although an agreement between the two companies "is some way off," according to James Riach of the London GUARDIAN. The protracted European club rugby saga, which has threatened the Heineken Cup's future existence, "has rumbled on for 18 months but Sky and BT are in tentative discussions to share the TV rights and potentially bring an end to the current impasse." Both broadcasters "have previously signed deals to show matches involving England's clubs from next season, the separate contracts representing a key factor in the impasse between the various unions and clubs, who disagree about commercial, structural and financial aspects of any future European tournament" (GUARDIAN, 2/14). In London, Ben Rumsby reported "an agreement between Sky and BT to share the TV rights was seen as crucial to rescuing European club rugby from the abyss and sparing both broadcasters and governing bodies from litigation that could do irrevocable damage to the relationship between them." So "deep is the enmity" between Sky and BT that it is understood that there "have been no direct talks between the broadcasters," with Ritchie -- who has played a leading role in peace talks with all stakeholders and whose CV includes a stint as CEO of Channel 5 -- "instead acting as a go-between." While neither company "wants to be seen as having backed down, each recognises the unique predicament it has been left in and the potential consequences of gambling on the courts deciding which -- if any -- of them has a legitimate contract in place and whether either has a valid claim for compensation" (TELEGRAPH, 2/13).
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