The biggest winners in the battle for Irish media rights to the UEFA Champions’ League will be fans after Ireland once again bucked the global trend in sport by winning all the rights to be shown on ‘free to air’ television.
TV3 won the biggest package including exclusive rights to cover the Champions’ League and Europa League Finals for three years from 2019. They will take over the Wednesday night slot from RTÉ and double the number of games shown by virtue of a change in timings which will see matches kick off in early and later time slots.
RTÉ will switch to the top game on Tuesday nights throughout the tournament, all the way up to the semi-final stage. Virgin Media and TV3 will show 16 games on Tuesday’s in the early evening window.
This effectively means that almost all of the games involving Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Celtic and who knows, with luck Cork City, be visible without the need to have an additional sports subscription.
In almost every other country in Europe, at least some part of the contract has gone towards the generally bigger paying subscription channels. In Britain, the rights are held by BT Sport which paid an estimated €1.3 Billion for their current deal.
It was announced though yesterday as well that they would once again broadcast the upcoming Final between Liverpool and Real Madrid live on YouTube.
The logic of this was explained by BT Consumer’s marketing and sales managing director, Pete Oliver as being down to the fact that “We have always said that we want to make top quality sport available to more people. Once again we will be making the UEFA Champions League final available to all to watch online for free.”
BT makes the Sports offering available free to customers of its broadband offering, in a model adopted here in Ireland too by eir which carries BT Sport on its eir Sport pack. The value of a broadband contract is higher than a TV only one so using sport to promote the higher value offering makes sense.
The question for Irish fans is whether the TV3 deal will remain free to air and paid for by advertising over the full three years.
It is not a requirement of the deal and with Virgin having a strong footprint in broadband after the takeover of UPC, it would be surprising not to see some experimentation with additional options made available to broadband customers over the next three years in which the deal will run.
In total, Virgin Media and TV3 will have Irish exclusive rights to 327 matches across the Champions’ League and Europa League per season and even if they were to us TV3 and be3 they would still leave plenty unviewable unless through some form of red button or online access.
The deal, which comes into effect in August this year, also includes exclusive rights to all UEFA Champions League final round qualifiers where Cork City will hope to feature having won the SSE Airtricity Premier League title last year.
“The UEFA Champions League is the biggest and most prestigious club competition in the world and we are delighted to extend our partnership with UEFA for both the Champions League and the UEFA Europa League,” said TV3 Managing Director Pat Kiely.
“This landmark deal confirms Virgin Media as Ireland’s leading connected entertainment business and is great news for TV3 viewers and Virgin Media Customers.”
“Our award winning Sports Broadcasting team look forward to bringing the biggest clubs and the best players to our viewers and customers in new and exciting ways over the coming European football seasons.”
The win comes on top of TV3 winning the rights to the 6 Nations in Rugby and the European Champions’ Cup in Rugby.
Even though it will now be switching to Tuesday’s and without the final, the result is still a winner for RTÉ, keeping them in the game for the highest profile competition in sport.
“This is a truly positive result for RTÉ, the Irish audience and public service broadcasting,” said Ryle Nugent, Head of Sport who will hand over to Declan McBennett in a couple of weeks.
“The sports rights market continues to evolve and RTÉ is now competing against major international companies both here and in the UK, both free and subscription, for the right to broadcast premium sports events in this country.”
“To secure the UEFA Champions League first choice games on Tuesday nights for the next three seasons means that Irish audiences will continue to have free to air access to the world’s leading club competition. This success, in conjunction with the rights to broadcast our national team’s UEFA European and World Cup qualifiers for 2020 and 2022, guarantees top class football on RTÉ platforms for the seasons ahead.”
TV deals generally mean greater cost for fans who want to see it all. This is one that goes the other way, at least for now and will be welcomed by fans as well as major sponsors including Heineken, Nissan and Mastercard.
Image Credit: UEFA