Premiership Rugby on BT: What does it mean for fans?

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The telecoms giant BT has today announced that it has signed a four-year broadcasting agreement with Premiership Rugby at the staggering cost of £152 million.

The agreement will mean that from the 2013/2014 season till the end of 2017, BT will hold the exclusive live broadcasting rights to all the Aviva Premiership games and the JP Morgan Sevens Series.

This new deal brings to an end the agreement between Premiership Rugby and BSkyB which had been running since 1994, and more recently from 2010 with BSkyB and Disney’s ESPN, which both shared the broadcasting rights.

This is a further big hit to Sky and its prominent place as the largest sport broadcaster in the country. They will still have the live rights to England’s summer tours, the Autumn Internationals and the British and Irish Lions tours, but rugby union in England will no longer have a weekly presence on its stations.

From 2014/15 BT will also hold the exclusive rights to matches played by Premiership clubs in any future European competitions, for three years. This is key as the English clubs, along with the French clubs, have given two years’ notice that they will pull out of the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup unless the changes that they have been pressing for are met.

Twickenham This new ground-breaking agreement means that from 2014 BT will have live broadcast rights for up to 69 matches per season, making it the place to be for any rugby couch potatoes.

Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of Premiership Rugby, declared that, “This is a game-changing agreement and will deliver a service that I know our club supporters will enjoy.”

For the basic rugby fan all this information is great, but you’re still probably asking what does this mean for me?

The increase in value of the contract can be seen as a positive step: the money can be reinvested by the clubs into their infrastructure and at grass-roots levels and help improve to the game across the country. BT have also said they will help all twelve Aviva Premiership clubs improve their technical infrastructure so that they can be at the forefront of this new technical age.

But conversely, there do seem to be some grey areas in terms of how people can actually watch the coverage. Does the consumer have to have own a BT Vision box to watch the matches, or will the games be available through a Sky subscription or similar?

Does the average rugby fan have to switch to BT broadband and then obviously a BT phone line in order to get a BT Vision subscription? Will people really jump through these hoops to watch the coverage, and how much will it cost?

Marc Watson has tried to down play these concerns and stop rumours by saying that BT plans, “to bring the excitement of the very best matches to as wide an audience as possible. We will also be bringing all of the action together in one place and will look to distribute it on a variety of platforms.”

Is this good for the game? In the short term it means more money for clubs and investment in the sport, but will it result in fewer people watching the game than before?

Let us know your thoughts about it below.

39 thoughts on “Premiership Rugby on BT: What does it mean for fans?

  1. I don’t think they would be allowed to own the exclusive rights, without offering it to Sky and others via a wholesale deal – just like Sky were forced to do with the soccer.
    Be good if it was cheaper than Sky Sports, and you could buy it without the endless torrents of roundball they pour onto our screens!
    There’s a slight concern over the quality of the coverage though…

  2. At first I wasn’t happy! As I thought I would need a BT line, Broadband and Vision on top of an expensive sky tv package. After hearing there wil be a BT vision channel on sky/virgin I calmed down!. This will just be the same as paying for espn. A 50% increase in revenue for the clubs can only be a good thing.

    The only part that concerns me is the Heineken cup. Sky’s coverage of every game live is excellent and shouldn’t be changed. Will they still be showing the non-English clubs games?

    1. Well, the deal seems to say English teams in the H Cup.

      My main question would be how much are they going to show of the Premiership because Sky sports only bother to show 1 game most weeks and that’s shocking coverage. The only way the deal is really an improvement for the fans is if most to all Premiership games getting good coverage

  3. The most important question – Does this mean we don’t have to listen to Stuart Barnes because I’m all in for that.

    1. Panicked me at first, but it could be great if it is true there will be a BT channel on Virgin. As someone who works in designing broadband access stuff I’d be extremely reticent to ever rely on BT networks for delivering my TV.

      If they can get the non-English HC matches as well (or they go to BBC) then I can ditch Sky Sports completely. Losing Sky rugby coverage would be fantastic as I would never have to listen to the “quiet … quiet … LOUD OH MY GOD HE IS GOING TO SCORE!!! … oh … he isn’t … and he isn’t English or a Leinster player, so what is is name?” rubbish that spews from Miles Harrison at every phase ever again. Losing Stuart Barnes would be the icing on the cake. Sky also went down when they cut the 3 hour highlights program to 1 hour. Perhaps (but I doubt it) we might get some more balance e.g. Sky will show you Saracens v Treviso live rather than Ospreys v Leinster because they are obsessed with showing the English matches as a priority.

      1. Sky probably should prioritise broadcasting the English club games considering the fan base in England is considerably larger to that of its Celtic and Italian counterparts. If the majority of fans paying for the subscription are English club supporters why shouldn’t the majority of games broadcast be English? The BBC shows pro 12 games but only has the six nations as far as English rugby is concerned.

        1. James, I think that may be a short sighted view though. Sky needs the game to grow as much as the rugby clubs do*. By concentrating on the current larger viewing pools they risk turning it into a parade of English-only matches, so failing to see the colour and advantage of it being a European cup. This makes it end up just looking like an extension of their premiership coverage.

          Interestingly (to me anyway) the viewing figures are not as skewed as you might suspect. England has a much larger population but only a very small percentage of it even knows rugby is on the tele. In Wales at least (I don’t know about Ire/Sco) the percentage is much higher. Add in the unarguable demographic fact that low income areas have a higher proportion of Sky subscribers and things start coming even closer together.

          * I’ll caveat this view of the clubs by being clear that I think the English clubs do not give a stuff about the game. They want the English clubs to be at the top of the pyramid, nothing else matters to them – not International, not European competition, not grass roots, nothing. The act of selling their European comp games as separate to the overall selling of the ERC rights clearly indicates this. Yes, they make more money out if it, as Man Utd would if they sold their own matches outside the Premier League, but they don’t because they understand the need for the collective to exist to make them what they are.

          Given past experience on this blog I should point out that “I think” means “In my opinion…”.

          1. Sorry man, I totally get your point about rugby in England (having lived in Wales for a decade or so), but the maths doesn’t lie… Even if half of all the people in Wales, Scotland and Ireland watch the games, and only 20% of English people watch, that’s still more English (7 million vs. 10 million).

            Hopefully BT’s financial commitment to the game will be reflected in a commitment to providing some quality coverage though (rather than just shoe-horning rugby into the schedule when there isn’t any soccer on!)

  4. I hope that the powers that be have carefully considered the ramifications of this move and not just gone “oh that means more money for all of us, yippee…!”. Personally, as someone who doesn’t have Sky, this might be a good thing but it all depends on what plans BT have.

    At grass roots level children like playing sports which emulate their heroes. How many children go around saying I want to be the next Chris Ashton, George North or Richie Gray. Not many, because most don’t get a chance to see them regularly on tv, which after all is the most popular medium for sports. My son still wants to be Jonny Wilkinson! Despite the fact that he plays scrum half! That was the last time professional rugby really engaged him. For all those that say football is in the same boat, it isn’t as it is pretty much omnipresent. Rugby is battling against other minority sports for participants and I hope that the powers that be are looking at the long term view!

    1. Staggy, in Wales we get at least two live Rabo matches in free TV every week. So most kids in Wales see a lot of North, Ashton, Halfpenny, etc. Best reason for a TV licence ever.

      I agree with you though that this decision is almost definitely purely about the cash paid and the idea of keeping it somewhere a lot of people can watch it does not come into it. A lot of people have Sky for the footie and hence see some rugby as part of that, most of them will not ditch Sky so most will simply no longer see the rugby.

          1. Oooh Matt, low blow :-) Who can blame them for choosing to play for a country that has centres that pass to wingers though?

          2. Ha ha, nice come back. Maybe they should start an Exiles club as 5th region, with Dan Lydiate as well it’s the start of a great squad.

    2. ha, one would hope they’re thinking about improving the game, but one suspects that the £152m is the bigger impetus. They;ve been happy with Sky showing 1 game per week for the last however many years.

  5. The deal is for 69 live games so three a weekend. As long as they get the production right then it will be good for rugby. It’s only the same as paying for sky sports and espn now, as everyone will cancel there espn and pay £10 to BT vision!

    1. Sky Sports’ deal had previously been all the games they could show and they showed 1 per week. I don’t want to bank on BT actually bothering to show anything more.

      The other thing is, I don’t have ESPN. I made the decision of lots of sports that I like, with some (and international) rugby or just rugby for less and I chose more sports – especially as when I subscribed F1 was moving to Sky. At least before I could get Premiership, European and International rugby all in the same place.

      Call me cynical, I don’t think this is going to be better.

      1. I agree wookie … reminds me of Setanta and ITV Sport. I don’t see this improving anything – BT do not have a track record of covering sport, it takes a lot of infrastructure to roll that out. BT Vision is currently only for those of us lucky enough to live in Broadband areas (and even then I would not trust it). Sky will not drop their prices just because they no longer show a minority sport (we all know they consider it as such) so if you want to keep Sky then this is going to cost you more.

        Beyond the minor inconvenience of watching/paying for it I think that the effect on European rugby could be chilling – The English have already broken the collective ERC (legally?) agreement with this, it’s another step to developing a club-led European competition that will be run by the Top14 and English Prem boards, throwing scraps to what they see as their inferior Celtic opposition who only beat them because they have bigger budgets, less matches, fancier kits or whatever is the excuse du jour. The SH teams will wet themselves laughing again because just as it seemed NH rugby might be getting itself into shape we slit our throats and again devolve into in-fighting. The rugby will suffer while everyone is concentrating on enlarging their slice of the pie instead. Football here we come…

  6. I hope they recruit the ESPN team – found myself far preferring their coverage of the premiership over that of Sky in recent years.

  7. What I frankly don’t like is that I have a Sky Sports subscription to watch – international rugby, premiership rugby, Heineken Cup rugby and rugby sevens. Aside from that, I want to watch formula 1, cricket, darts and (don’t judge me) occasional superleague. If BT Vision is going to be paying out all this money and putting on all this stuff, I suspect it’s going to cost a comparable amount, I’m not assuming an extra £10 on my package here. I also don’t want to choose between rugby on BT and losing the other sports I enjoy on the side.

    That said, If Sky Sports are losing all this coverage of football and rugby, surely they’ll be forced to drop their prices. If not for competition’s sake, for the sake of the watchdogs.

    It all comes down to what BT are going to do and the massive question of “is this one channel”. If it’s one channel, how are they going to show football and rugby?

  8. Sky show 1 game a week then you have to pay 9.99 for espn to get the other 2 games.

    BT vision are showing 3 games a weekend. 66 + 2 semis and final. The subscription for the channel is likely to be £10 or less. As long as production is good what’s the problem ??

    1. Worst case scenario is that they bundle it with the soccer (like Sky already do, at around tha same price), so status quo.
      Hopefully they’ll have the “Vision” to sell it seperately ly though. Best reason for switching to BT I’ve ever heard :o)

  9. Quote from McCafferty

    “It will mean an increase of 50% in television revenue for our clubs and means we can look at the salary cap [which is £4.5m plus add-ons] for the season after next. Our aim has for a long time been to put ourselves on a par with football’s [second tier] Championship and we are well on our way.”

    I know this means on a par financially, but I also know that he means he wants the game to be run in the same way as football – clubs holding the power, money concentrated in a handful of elite, etc. This could be the start if a very difficult period for rugby if it tries to emulate the football model as it underestimates how important the international game is to rugby, much more than it is to football. Disastrous.

  10. Oh goodness, why am I sensing a car crash of epic proportions brought on by the greed of the English professional clubs. One that will inevitably damage the England team just when everything was looking slightly rosier.

    At times like this I do sometimes wish that I’d been born a celt. After all central contracts haven’t done the English Cricket team any harm, whereas a club led sport like football has led to English players being in a technical backwater and will be for probably a generation in the best case scenario.

    {Head in hands!}

  11. My concern is around the BT Chief’s comments about a ‘dazzling new European tournament’ being around the corner. BT will not be part of a publicity stunt by the PRA so there has to be some depth to this comment. I also cannot work out what gives the PRA the right to sell ERC matches, surely the rights to the European Cup lie with the European organising body?
    My conclusion is that Heineken are not going to renew their sponsorship and BT will take over. That then gives him his ‘dazzling’ new European tournament as they will caveat their deal by making qualification a meritocracy. I for one then worry about the future of the European game as we will end up with a football situation where money, money, money is the priority and whoever has the deepest pockets has the most success. The playing field is not even between England, France, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy. England and France have larger and more affluent populations, as such it will be nigh on impossible for anyone else to compete against them. They have more money and larger squads to deal with European qualification
    I don’t for one second think the current system is correct but as the ERC are building the game in Italy and rebuilding it in Wales and Scotland, removing the existing checks and balances and going to an absolute meritocracy is short sighting and too commercially driven for me

    1. ” England and France have larger and more affluent populations, as such it will be nigh on impossible for anyone else to compete against them” – Yes, and this is what the Eng and Fra clubs also know and want to use to their advantage (though do not discount Leinster and Munster from being in the same financial position).

      The Eng and Fra clubs (as opposed to their unions) see no personal value in ensuring European rugby as a whole prospers. They make some noises about a new comp that enables Spain etc. to play some third tier rugby but this is just to distract people from what is really going on here, a power grab by the clubs from the unions.

      I think the Eng and Fra clubs are misguided, they will turn RU into Rugby League, played and well attended in small geographical areas, with no interest outside those areas because there is no national game, only Leics/Saracens/Northampton/Gloucs/Exeter/etc.

      The more I think about it the more I think that this is the potential doomsday trigger than kills off NH international rugby by making Eng and Fra the only viable places to have a professional game. All the players go there, Celtic national teams wilt (short term gain for Eng/Fra but they will get bored of playing 2nd rate teams eventually). Eventually even all of the best SH players will go there as the money keeps getting concentrated there. Rugby reduces down to Eng v Fra, much like RL is about Aus v GB.

      1. Whilst an increased value on television rights is a good thing I was hoping this would result in more clubs being less reliant on benevolent owners, allow investment in infrastructure and academies, etc. I am however very concerned that the money will just go and fuel more wage inflation to compete with the French. I completely agree with your assessment as to where this leaves the longer term future for the European game.

        For the future of European comps I would like to see:
        – A salary cap for the squads registered to play HC or Amlin
        – An equal distribution of television revenue across all clubs (HC Revenue + Amlin Revenue)/No of Participating Clubs
        – Promotion/Relegation between Amlin and HC, e.g. Amlin Semi Finalists make next year’s HC and bottom 4 HC pool finishers drop down. This way we will end up with the best teams playing HC, but because of the distribution of revenue the likes of Zebre will not lose out (and may benefit from playing in a comp where they may win a game)

        I think it will be detrimental to the game long term if 3 of the 6 nations can’t field competitive teams in European competition. So whilst I welcome the additional money, I am concerned over how it may be used.

    1. Staggy, do you mean their proposal there should be no relegation in the AP or their completely contradictory moan that the Rabo Pro has an advantage precisely because it has no relegation?

      1. The former! The haves of the AP want to keep out the have nots, and thereby stultify rugby in the lower leagues.

        The only way this could ever happen, is for the model of the regions to be used with RFU control, but it never will (and the thought of RFU (or ERFU if you prefer!)control fills me with dread!).

        I have to say that the more that I hear about this saga, the worse it gets. The arrogance of the English clubs seems unbelievable. Its no wonder the Celts hate us!

  12. I have to say that I really dislike the fact that certain nations e.g. Scotland – has two teams and both automatically go into the HC – I believe that you should have to earn the opportunity to play in the HC not view it as a right – otherwise, where is the pride in being in the competition? So, I believe, something had to change.

    & given that rugby is now professional – money talks and bulls**t walks
    The money is with the English and French
    2011-2012 average attendance
    French Top 14: 14,024
    English Premiership: 12,979
    Pro 12: 7,721

    & Heineken cup: 14,837
    (so if the French walk away from the HC – would it really hurt them financially? Doesn’t look like it to me)

    1. NickC, that’s a tidy encapsulation of one side of the view.

      To take the money point first – where do you stop with following the money? Why stop at letting England and France play with themselves because no other leagues are as financially viable? In the English league itself start by pruning the bottom 4 leeches who do not make money – Newcastle, Sale, London Welsh, etc. Follow the money, and it’s all in Leics/Gloucs/Saints really. Then let’s stop all of this subsidising the SH teams by touring there in the summer and giving them all the money. So now we’re down to two countries with leagues, no international rugby to speak of, and why not go the whole hog and admit there is even more money in France so let’s get all of the best players over there, ditch Anglo/Welsh because the French would always win, and then close down the English leagues … slightly over the top I know, trying to use farce to point out the folly in only thinking about money when it comes to sport. We (all of us, not just the English) need a sustainable sport across multiple countries to keep interest at the level we want. This means that those with the luck of naturally bigger populations and urban centers need to share out some money in the pot, or first Scottish and Italian rugby will die, then Wales, then SH, etc.

      As for the HC – again, that is one viewpoint. Another is that it’s a European cup and was never intended to be a “best of the best” but rather a “best of each country in Europe”. It is not the Champions League, it is a cross-Europe competition which therefore entails a different qualification strategy to ensure cross-Europe representation. Too try and limit the Rabo Pro qualification in the suggested ways simply penalises those of us without countries large enough to support 10 or 12 team leagues. If we disbanded the Pro 12 in order to avoid the English interfering in our qualification process, thus getting even more of this supposedly advantageous “rest time”, would that be acceptable then to the English? How would you beat us up then to compensate for not winning the thing for years? I don’t think this is an idle threat either – the Irish have always been a bit wary of having the full resources to do the Pro 12 so I can easily see them dropping out of it if it threatens their 3 guaranteed HC places.

  13. I switched from BT to SKY after BT informed me they were not increasing my monthly rental
    because I was a loyal customer. Approx. £22 per month.
    When they found out I was changing BT called offering me a deal for approx. £12 per month
    as I was a loyal customer. Betrayal of a customer I thought (they should have made the £12 offer from the start) so I joined SKY.
    Beware of what’s up their sleeve. It’s only money their after. Do you honestly believe they are doing this for the sake of rugby or the fans?

  14. BT taking the Sky monopolistic mantle and continuing in the same vein as Sky had done originally ie sport for Sky subscribers only. Thankfully, someone with sense rather than just £ signs decided that it would be in their favour to offer the Now TV platform, so the sport fans could part with £9.99/24 hour period without the noose of Sky subscription.
    BT have decided in what I believe to be a complete marketing naiivity to basically clamour for new customers by insisting that sport is only available to existing and new BT customers. A broadband service that is renowned for its issues and I see little evidence that reassures the customer that there will be no issues with televising live sport and with streaming, mmmmmmmmmm!
    I believe that their strategy will eventually cause a sore rear as it comes back to bite their bum and a converse reaction to their misguided belief that they will increase their customer base and provide a seamless process of delivery.
    There is no reason why BT do not continue with the Now TV concept as this would enable them to reach a vast untapped section of their market and makes for ‘happy badgers’ and who knows, even a new customer base who may even dare to switch to BT in the future.
    I implore you to think again at your strategy or employ me to manage the marketing.

  15. You dont have to be a BT broadband customer to get BT sport. You can pay £12 per month and watch it on sky or stream it online or through there new app. This is better value than paying £9.99 for 24 hours on now tv!.

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