The wildly popular Heineken Cup is a serious target for the new players in the rugby broadcasting game. Grant Best, the senior channel executive producer of BT Vision, said yesterday that his company “wanted to be a part of the competition in 2014, whatever that competition becomes”.
Best confirmed that BT Vision, having already bought exclusive rights to the English Premiership – 69 matches a season for four years – was also committed to screening the Top 14, the equivalent tournament in France.
This places significant pressure on those Heineken Cup stakeholders who attempted to head off what they perceived as an English coup by negotiating a contract extension with Sky, the current broadcasters – despite having been informed by the English and French clubs that they would walk away from the tournament at the end of the 2013-14 campaign if discussions over qualification, commercial and governance failed to bear fruit.
With the two most important club rugby leagues in Europe forming a key part of the programme planning, BT Vision, which also has rights to 38 Premier League football games and a large amount of women’s tennis, is in a strong position to gain at least some access to the Heineken Cup, widely considered to be rugby’s “jewel in the crown”. They are willing to put up around £50m of new money.
Sky are showing every sign of fighting their corner on the Heineken Cup front. But the English clubs are firmly on record as saying that any European games in which they participate after the end of next season will be broadcast by their new partner, and Best reinforced this by saying: “We believe the concentration of club rugby in one place will give us the strongest chance of maximising audiences.”