BT’s European rugby rights: the real thing or bargaining ploy
To say that Premiership Rugby's announcement of a UK£152 million deal with BT came as a surprise would be a massive understatement.
Prior to the announcement, the UK broadcast rights to the top-tier of English club rugby union had been split between Sky and ESPN.
Under terms of the new agreement - which is being described as 'one of the biggest deals in the history of club rugby' – the broadcast arm of the telecommunications company has acquired the exclusive live broadcast rights to the Aviva Premiership and the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Sevens for the next four years.
- Premiership Rugby agrees lucrative deal with BT
- We will set up a dazzling new European rugby tournament, says BT Vision CEO
Crucially, moreover, the wide-ranging television deal includes the UK broadcast rights 'to matches played by Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs in any future European competitions from 2014-15 for three years.’
As the European Rugby Cup (ERC), organisers of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup competitions, has previously marketed the sale of television rights itself and on the same day announced four-year extension with Sky Sports, the line appears to raise the possibility of one of two options.
One is that the "future European competitions" line acts as a perfectly viable clause should any new European competition be created as a result of failed negotiations between Premier Rugby, the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) and the ERC regarding a revised format of the Heineken Cup.
The second is that Premier Rugby has sold the UK broadcast rights to any European competition involving Aviva Premiership rugby clubs ahead of the competition’s inception in order to strengthen its bargaining position when negotiations with the ERC regarding the Heineken Cup begin in earnest – the public announcement of BT’s lucrative financial commitment gives weight to this point of view.
Given the 17-year history of the Heineken Cup, the respect tournament commands rugby circles and the loss that its discontinuation would cause to all stakeholders, in my opinion Tuesday’s announcement is simply a play by Premiership Rugby to force the ERC to meet its demands to reduce the number of competing teams and revise the system of qualification.
An interview with Mark McCafferty will appear in the October edition of SportsPro. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.
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