TV3 lands FTA Rugby Champions Cup package in Ireland
By Jonathan Rest
TV3, the free-to-air commercial broadcaster in Ireland, has landed rights in the country to one match per round from the European Rugby Champions Cup, the continent’s top rugby union clubs competition, starting next season.
The four-year agreement comes into effect later in 2018, and European Professional Club Rugby, the organiser of the competition and the secondary European Rugby Challenge Cup, is close to signing off a similar free-to-air deal in the UK.
Reports emerged this week that the UK rights-holder will be commercial broadcaster Channel 4, although EPCR would not comment on that when approached by Sportcal today.
The package of TV3, whose four-year Six Nations deal kicked in this year, includes one live match per round in the Champions Cup pool stage and one live match from each of the knockout rounds.
Champions Cup rugby has a significant following in Ireland, with provinces Leinster, Munster and Ulster having won six titles between them. Both Leinster and Munster have qualified for this season's quarter-finals.
In July last year, BT Sport was announced as the sole pay-TV broadcaster of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup in the UK and Ireland from 2018-19, but at the time EPCR carved out a free-to-air package in both countries in order to "meet its key objective of taking its matches to a larger audience."
At present, rights to the competition are held in the UK and Ireland by both BT Sport and pay-TV rival Sky Sports in a deal worth around £24 million ($33.4 million) a year, although it is understood that the new BT deal is worth less than that.
Vincent Gaillard, chief executive of EPCR, told Sportcal today that any shortfall will be made up once the free-to-air packages in the UK and Ireland and the bumper deal in France are taken into account.
Last May, EPCR announced new deals in France for the 2018-19 to 2021-22 cycle with pay-TV's BeIN Sport and public-service broadcaster France Télévisions, agreements understood to be worth €31 million ($38.1 million) per season combined, up from €20 million per season at present.
BeIN will maintain live coverage of all Champions Cup matches involving French teams, two Challenge Cup games per round and the knockout stages of both tournaments, while France Télévisions will offer the first-choice match from the Champions Cup on Sunday afternoons and the first-choice match from the Challenge Cup.
An agreement is said to be close between the two organisations for an additional free-to-air Champions Cup game on a Saturday, further boosting revenues and exposure.
Gaillard said: "There are two key components to the rights deals when it comes to broadcast and whilst the importance of revenue cannot be discounted, it has been very important for EPCR to also ensure increased exposure in this new cycle.
"Being able to engage with new audiences with live matches on free-to-air television in the United Kingdom and Ireland is vital to the sustainable growth of European club rugby and supports the excellent work in their promotion that we get from BT Sport and Sky Sports at present, as well as BeIN Sports in France.
"We already see the benefits of free-to-air exposure in France through France Télévisions and have carved out the possibility to double that weekly exposure through the season from 2018-19 onwards, for which negotiations are still ongoing. It goes without saying that tapping into those audiences will derive benefits for our commercial partners – current and future – and this move grants us the perfect platform from which to sustainable develop EPCR’s commercial programme."