BT Sport aiming to become the ‘home of club rugby’

Those involved in the launch of the new BT Sport channels are confident that they can bring rugby to the masses and have promised to make themselves the ‘home of club rugby’ for the foreseeable future.

There are a couple of things working massively in BT’s favour in comparison with Setanta and ESPN’s attempts to pry rugby away from Sky in the past few years. Firstly, they have a huge existing customer base to which they can talk directly. Grant Best, Senior Channel Executive Producer, confirmed that BT Broadband customers would be eligible for a different, and evidently better, price plan.

For those without BT broadband and/or Vision, the BT Sport channels will be available on Sky – how exactly they will be incorporated into Sky’s current structure is as of yet unclear. That, along with price plans and the commentary/pundit team, will all be announced at the official launch over the coming months.

The second, and perhaps more important, factor playing in their favour is that Premiership Rugby is finally in the hands of one single broadcaster again. Over the past few years, with Sky sharing coverage with either ESPN or Setanta, either broadcaster’s coverage has effectively been promoting a rival’s product at the same time. It is a strange concept to consider, but from next season there will be just one company committed to Premiership Rugby and promoting it.

69 games, a combination of Sky and ESPN’s current respective shares, will be shown on BT, and they have been working closely with Premiership Rugby with the aim of achieving some sort of consistency of kick-off times, so fans can plan their weekends better in advance. There will be three games a weekend all available to BT customers, so the days of having to juggle subscriptions, or only being able to watch one or two games a weekend in your home, are theoretically over. There will also be a weekly highlights and discussion programme to rival Sky’s current offering of The Rugby Club.

A huge rugby-orientated marketing drive can be expected over the coming months, and we can expect plenty of innovation from the new coverage, with the audience at the heart of the action. Player interviews as they are leaving the pitch at half time, ref cam and studio audiences for games are all possibilities. BT have constructed a mammoth new 14,000 square foot studio (about the size of 3 tennis courts) at Olympic Park, so the potential for innovation and interaction with fans is certainly there.

Lawrence Dallaglio, the frontman for BT Sport’s rugby coverage, is excited about the prospect of bringing a new dimension to rugby broadcasting. “Rugby has got a responsibility to sell itself more, and get away from its elitist, middle-class image,” Dallaglio said. “We’ve got to make the sport less complicated without losing its essence.” A BBC Sport-style online news-feed for games was one concept discussed that would surely appeal to plenty of rugby fans – outside of the biggest international periods, it is something that is glaringly lacking for rugby fans at the moment.

To become the true ‘home of club rugby’, however, BT know they need to have all the top competitions. And that brings us to the great unresolved issue surrounding the club game in the Northern Hemisphere at the moment: Europe and the Heineken Cup. They already have the rights to the Top 14, with its host of international superstars, but to really be at the pinnacle of club rugby broadcasting, BT are aware they need the top European Cups, in whatever form they may be. “We want to be a part of the competition in 2014,” said Best, “whatever that competition becomes.”

Having acquired the Premiership rights for the next four years with a whopping £152 million bid, you sense that however the European situation does resolve itself, BT will be at the forefront of trying to claim whatever fills those nine weekends in the rugby calendar. And given they are certainly making all the right noises, that can only be a good thing for rugby fans wanting to watch as much of the action as possible.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

42 thoughts on “BT Sport aiming to become the ‘home of club rugby’

  1. Sorry, but is this a sponsered link? I’m not sure how this can “only be a good thing” for rugby fans. As a huge fan of club rugby, the subscription to Sky Sports is a decent amount of money but one I’m willing to spend. But now thanks to “competition making things better for the viewer” I’ve got to look at either paying more money, or choosing between the Prem and the Heineken Cup/Autumn Internationals, ie paying the same amount for less rugby – even if only for a season or two. How is that good? Livid.

    1. You don’t know the price yet?! Could be relatively cheap for a rugby focused channel. Sometimes Prem Rugby loses out to football on Sky, with BT it sounds like this won’t happen. Although whatever the price, I do realise it’s extra and a I agree that for next season at least, having split coverage is going to be pretty frustrating.

      I think that BTs plan relies heavily on winning all rugby coverage. Only at that stage will the BT package have more appeal for me than what Sky/ESPN offer this season.

      1. BT have got a third of the Prem football games, with first pick for games most weekends. They have said they will schedule the football matched for 12.15ish on a Saturday and then basically the rest of the weekend will be for rugby.

        I think you’re right in that it will be best once/if BT get it all. Their plan is obviously to make a success of the Prem/Top 14 over the next couple of years, then acquire the Heineken. They have said that they already have a certain amount of money set aside to bid for that European competition, whatever format it may be. Obviously there aren’t going to be nine weekends a year with no rugby in them, so there will be something for them to show.

    2. Luke, do you pay for ESPN at the moment? If not you must only be getting one prem game a weekend, which isn’t much for your money. BT will have three games every weekend, and although you won’t get AIs/Heineken Cup you will still be getting more rugby for your money (probably).

      It will also be available as an additional channel on Sky, probably at a reduced rate – although all that will become clearer in the next couple of months. With more money and a single broadcaster behind the league, we will be seeing more rugby and better quality programmes, which is a good thing, right?

      I appreciate it’s annoying that it can’t all be in one place, but to be honest if BT get it right in the first couple of years I think we may well see that happening in the near future.

      1. I did briefly get ESPN but, what with other commitments (including playing and now coaching I should add, smugly), I tend to have less time to watch more than one or two games at the weekend. So -as annoying as it is to sometimes not see the star game (or not have a Saturday game on some weekends) as it’s on the other channel – I couldn’t really justify the extra cost.

        Do I not get much for my money? With Sky I still get England’s non 6 nations games, Lions, Saxons (essential fare for the discerning rugby gimp), Super 15, the Championship as well as Heineken Cup and Challenge Cup. Which is great, but obviously it’s the prem that has week in week out coverage. So I’m bitter at possibly having to chose.

        Ultimately I totally agree that in the long term having everything in one place can only be a good thing, and that’s really what my gripe is about. We DID have everything in one place up to a few seasons ago. While I’m sure it’ll all turn out OK, I get very grumpy thinking about the next season or two. Bah!

        1. I know exactly where you’re coming from Luke, we all want to see it all in one place – sadly that doesn’t seem to be an option for now! But with Sky not looking like they care enough about rugby to outbid BT for it, I wouldn’t be surprised if it all ended up with them in future.

          Let’s just hope they do it well! And not that it’s any real consolation, but you’ll also be getting the Top 14 thrown in. They’ve some quite decent players plying their trade over there, I hear.

          1. Alas….this may be the excuse that the wife has been waiting for us to lose the Sky subscription.

            And I appreciate this isn’t fashionable – but I quite rate the Sky coverage. Even with Stuart and Dewi, their features are interesting, the analysis detailed (Sky give us Dean Ryan, the BBC gives us Eddie Butler reminding us that in rugby the ball has to go backwards – and don’t get me started on Jonathan Davies) and Will Greenwood’s shoes are getting pointier by the season.

            There you go – I accuse Jamie of putting in a shameless plug (the article still looks like a plug, mind) and I do one myself.

  2. shameless plug. if this isn’t an advertisement and i can’t see how it would be, then it’s cronyism / old boys club. theres a lot of that going on in the world these days and im disappointed the rb would be involved in it. can we expect 2 more posts detailing the offerings from setanta and espn then? i doubt it. im calling good old fashion backwater on this. not surprising really though from a * site unfortunately. no place for it old boy!

    1. Mitchell, I’m a bit confused by your post to be honest. Do we not all want to see club rugby all in one place? With Sky seemingly not that interested any more, do you see somewhere else for that to happen in the next few years other than BT?

      As for the ‘old boys club’, I’m 22 and certainly not part of anything like that. The article is about focussing on what BT Sport can do positively for Premiership Rugby going forwards, nothing else.

    2. Mitchell, it’s the latest offering on Premiership rugby. So it’s topical to have an informative piece.

      I imagine there isn’t an article on Setanta because it’s no longer in business in the UK!

      ESPN is established, so old news and after 4 more weekends will no longer be offering any sort of premiership rugby tv package. Why would anybody write an article on it?

    3. Mitch, Old boy, it is no more than a relevant update on our rugby viewing options going forward. We can’t avoid the commercialised nature of every such venture in this day and age.

      Would it be more appropriate for the Blog to pretend not to mention the broadcaster?

      “Another Channel Aiming to become the home of Club Rugby”?

      “Another broadcaster is aiming to pry away rugby from the broadcasters who broadcast rugby currently”???

      If the only alternative is not to mention it at all, then that is plain daft.

  3. There are some fairly sceptical views in response to this.

    Intitally I reacted in a similar way, as I’m not overly keen on having to have additional subscriptions for HC / Internationals / Prem rugby. But reading Jamie’s additional posts, the BT package could well be better value for money than the current options. Especially in the long term.

    Sky are the bigger beast, having some competition can only be good in the long term for viewers / paying customers

  4. Is it worth throwing into this debate that BT have also purchased ESPN Europe? that’s how I understand what they are saying on the BT website when I was looking at swtiching to them last night! please check their website and tell me I am wrong, I was lost in a sea of package options, but that’s what I thought I read!

    1. Yeah that’s right, the ESPN channel is going to continue to operate I believe, but it is now owned by BT – I’m not sure what that means in terms of what it’ll be called, but there will be more than one channel run by BT. As it says in the article all will become clearer in a couple of months’ time!

  5. This sounds to me as if I am going to be expected to pay more money….it’s a complete disgrace imo!!!

  6. I’m a bit miffed. I can’t drop the Sky Sports subscription in favour of BT because Sky Sports has the F1, cricket and darts, as well as autumn and summer internationals, the Lions tours, VIIs, Some Saxons/womens games and for the minute European rugby. So now I have to get BT on top of it to catch some Premiership rugby and I’m a bit sceptical of how much that will be.

    Good news is though, last I heard, BT will be selling games to a terrestrial channel (likely ITV) so people can get a bit of premiership rugby without BT. What I would rather have of course is for Sky Sports to actually cover more rugby so I didn’t have to mix up my packages.

  7. I don’t have Sky or ESPN at home, so as long as the pub are going to get BT I don’t care! But thanks for the article!!

  8. Does anyone know if Virgin will also have this channel?

    Also I have to take a pop at Dallaglio – “get away from its elitist, middle-class image..”. Umm, it might that image where you live Lawrence, but not on this side of the bridge. And before everyone points out that this is about English rugby it’s still clear that Lawrence says “rugby”, not “rugby in the south east of England” (as I’m sure plenty of Glaws fans will also have bristled at that tired old cliche).

    1. PS. By the way, if you want to watch it then I would strongly recommend getting it as part of a Sky or Virgin package. The idea that BT have the capacity to squirt live HD TV down their phone lines really does make me laugh…

    2. brighty, coming from the West Country but living in the home counties now, it is very clear that there is very much an elitist, middle class image of the game, and a considerable chunk of the keen, and occasional rugby-following/playing/parenting populace do fall into it.

      He may not be universally popular but he does have a point. There is an entirely different view of game away from the South East than in the South West or Wales.

      I used to bridle at the suggestion my sport was elitist and middle class, but when you move away from the SW it is very easy to see where that view takes root. It may be clichéd but it does have merit.

      These things need to be said, because there is a massive potential market in the SE, as well as big areas of northern England that still gain a lot of their following from Grammer School and Public school backgrounds.

      1. Sounds like we are of partly the same opinion then Blub – it’s a posh boys game in some parts only. My issue is that it’s referred to as a blanket, not as a “in some areas”. So it Sounds a little like pandering to one part while annoying some of the others. It’s the exact opposite of posh in Wales seeing as its popularity came from enabling working men to smash their rich bosses.

        1. Yes I think we both understand the nuances of the regional differences of the rugby public within the country. The UK that is.

          Where we probably differ is the feeling that anyone needs to clarify this, when talking about the game. As we demonstrate, it is perfectly clear to what Dallaglio refers to.

          1. Why does it annoy some people? From my perspective it’s annoying because the mainstream sports media are often guilty of portraying rugby as a posh mans game – it could not be further from the truth in Wales and in fact it’s important to some of us to remember it’s roots in Wales i.e. it’s “anti-posh” if you like.

            I don’t like seeing the tired old stereotype repeated as to the casual observer they will see it is reaffirming their prejudices about rugby and hence justifying their distaste for it based on some personally held beliefs about class, etc. Basically I don’t want anyone to dislike rugby because they think it’s “not for them” and to my mind comments like this only reaffirm the idea that it’s not for them. If he’d added something like “there is a misconception…” etc. then it would have been a good opportunity to start changing the very perception he has an issue with.

      1. Apologies for the late response Brighty, but to clarify. Perhaps I should have said ‘irritating’ rather than ‘fool’ as you seem to a) argue about when there is no argument and b) twist it back to some Welsh angle. As I say irritating, not foolish. Hope that helps to improve the quality of your input in future?

        1. I doubt it Baz because irritating you is of zero consequence to me. I’m not going to take lessons on “quality” either from a man who makes tedious generalisations.

  9. Shameless plug this most certainly is. Jamie, BT currently give us nothing and you’re creaming yourself at the thought of them. They are the reason the Heineken cup, the best rugby tournament in the northern hemisphere, might come to an end as we know it. Shameless product placement, thought therugbyblog was better than this, you’d never see such obvious and crass marketing on planet rugby.

    1. Sorry you feel like that, but this isn’t product placement or ‘crass marketing’. In an ideal world all the rugby would stay on Sky, but that is never going to happen – their coverage has got a bit tired anyway, and they don’t seem to be willing to put the time and money into Premiership Rugby that BT do now. I’m not saying it will be perfect, but the fact that they are willing to put up so much money for it, build new studios etc. can only be a good thing for the quality of coverage we are getting. It also means more investment into the clubs.

      I’m merely trying to put a positive spin on a less than ideal situation. Yes it will involve another subscription, but everything they have said makes me think they are serious about covering rugby and seeing as they don’t have that much football coverage, it will be one of their most important products. What exactly do you think I stand to gain from this anyway? All it is is my opinion.

      1. Jamie, I think the simple question is “Is this a sponsored story?” i.e. sponsored by BT? The tone is very positive and the cynical amongst us are not used to seeing such things without assuming some sort of product placement. If it isn’t sponsored and these are all your own feelings then I doubt anyone would take issue with your enthusiasm and would welcome the clarification.

        1. It’s not a sponsored story at all. We were invited to go along and have a chat with Dallaglio about the new channels BT were starting, and I liked what I heard. Perhaps that’s just me being naive. But it really isn’t anything more than that.

  10. Margaret Thatchers death and funeral today seems to have polarised opinion across the country, and I can’t help but feel that it has seeped onto this site with some of the comments.

    Particularly annoyance over the comments from a preceived “Posh” perspective from Dallaglio, as opposed to the working class perspective.

    Also the free market situation that is essentially the core of this article, with some unfairly (in my opinion) questioning the motives and tone of the article that just represents in an optimistic manner, the reality of a business vision (no pun intended) that affects us all as rugby watchers.

    Listening to some of the entrenched views around Thatcher over the last couple of days really does seem to be reflected in this discussion.

    Irrespective of your view from a political standpoint, she really did not understand the attraction of sport by the way. For balance though, I understand that Denis was a qualified Rugby ref.

    1. Blub, you’ve misunderstood my responses. I’m not bothered with it being posh or not – I’m bothered that some people I know dismiss rugby as a posh mans game so do not give it a chance. I’d rather they did give it a chance – I think everyone needs rugby in their life. So when I see the tired old cliche, that only applies in a small minority of the country, it makes me bristle.

      The people I know would find it hilarious that you may be indicating that I’m working class…

      1. Brighty, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. I am simply comparing the theme of this message thread to the themes I hear on the radio on my drive to work over the last week or so.

        it is more about the assumptive and polarised views/opinions than any political or class determination.

        My existence today in the home counties is a world apart from my west country rugby background, and I remain fascinated by the differences in opinion that perpetuate. I am equally fascinated by the continual difficulties in breaking down these views.

  11. Don’t suppose there was any mention of BT sports going to Virgin? I’m a student atm and both Sky and BT have messed me about so I don’t want to go back to them when I move in August but then if I am going to go somewhere else (and I’m obviously thinking Virgin) I really want the premiership rugby to be on there!!!

  12. No currently virgin wont get rugby anymore .:( ESPN was great for us virgin people but now we have to make a choice between fast decent internet or rugby – we can’t even use the BT online player . Probelm is we cant get a bt broadband id with bt broadband and we cant get bt broadband unless we put in a bt line so the cost would wrack up to even get it online :(

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