Channel 5 win rights to show live Premiership matches for first time on terrestrial TV
Channel 5 will become the new home of free-to-air live coverage of Aviva Premiership Rugby, simulcasting selected games with BT.
The new contract has been agreed after a competitive bidding process, and will see Channel 5 simulcast a total of five live games with BT Sport over four years, starting 2017-18. BT Sport will continue to broadcast up to 80 live Premiership games per season. In addition to live coverage, the agreement will also see Channel 5 broadcast a highlights programme every Sunday night, covering Premiership Rugby, the Anglo-Welsh Cup and Premiership Rugby 7s.
Until now, BT has shown a small selection of games every season on its own free-to-air sports channel BT Showcase (Freeview channel 59) including last weekend’s fixture between Bath and Gloucester, but coverage on the channel has had a low profile: so low that Premiership Rugby have hailed the Channel 5 deal as the first time it will have its games shown on terrestrial TV.
The ITV4 highlights show pulls in 500,000 viewers on a good day – BT Sport draws less than that – but insiders forecast that with Channel 5 on board total figures will reach as high as 1.5 million on a given weekend. As the Exeter chairman, Tony Rowe, said: “The reality is that it’s all about exposure. The deal we’ve done with BT Sport is good, it’s going up year on year but you can’t beat terrestrial TV. Instead of talking in the 100,000s, you’re talking in the millions.”
Last year Premiership Rugby announced a deal with NBC to broadcast rights in the United States and from next year onwards matches will be shown live in China on a weekly basis for the first time. Throw in its ham-fisted proposal for a 10-month season and it begins to look like expansionism, but the reasons are obvious – few Premiership clubs make a profit, although Rowe hopes the latest deal will go some way to addressing that.