Aviva Premiership rugby union matches will continue to be broadcast exclusively live on BT Sport for the next six seasons in a ground-breaking new TV deal.
The agreement covers a four-year extension to the current four-year deal, making it the longest TV deal of its kind in the history of Premiership Rugby and ensuring live games will air on BT Sport until at least the end of the 2020-21 campaign.
BT Sport will air 80 live Aviva Premiership matches per season for four years starting from the 2017-18 season, an increase on the current deal where 69 games are broadcast each season.
The new deal also includes extended highlights rights for all 135 Aviva Premiership Rugby matches per season from 2015-16, midweek review and preview programming, as well as live rights to matches from the entire Singha Premiership Rugby 7s Series until the end of the 2020-21 season
As major partners of Premiership Rugby, BT Sport will also work with Premiership Rugby to develop a community rugby programme and continue to market top flight English club rugby, in a deal that will no doubt boost English clubs’ spending power against rival Top 14 and Pro12 leagues.
The new BT deal is expected to help Premiership clubs in their ongoing battle to compete with cash-rich French sides in recruiting and retaining top talent.
It is understood the new contract is worth far in excess of the £152 million agreement signed in 2012, which controversially included handing BT the rights to Premiership teams’ European matches, but those games are not included in new 2017-21 deal.
Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty hailed BT for helping increase TV audiences since gaining exclusive broadcast rights from Sky Sports and ESPN 18 months ago.
“BT Sport has been a fantastic partner for English club rugby so we are delighted that we have been able to extend our relationship with them for a further four years,” said McCafferty.
“This is the longest TV agreement in the history of Premiership Rugby. In the 18 months we have been on-air with them our live TV audiences have grown by 50 per cent so it is clear that the partnership is going from strength to strength.
“In almost two seasons of coverage broadcasting the Aviva Premiership BT Sport has set new standards for the live broadcast of rugby.
“Their innovative style has received great acclaim and we look forward to developing the partnership over the next six seasons.
“Aviva Premiership Rugby is in great health with a number of new commercial partners on board and it is testimony to the strength of the competition and our clubs that we have renewed more than two years before the current deal with BT Sport ends.
“We are enjoying a golden era for rugby in this country with the Rugby World Cup just around the corner and the game’s re-entry in the Olympics in the summer of 2016. This announcement is another indication of the current strength of English rugby.”
McCafferty added: “This partnership is about far more that what is seen on our TV screens. BT Sport is committed to Premiership Rugby and they will help us to grow the game in England.”
John Petter, chief executive, BT Consumer, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be extending our partnership with Premiership Rugby.
“2015 will be an amazing year for rugby in the UK and the popularity of rugby will continue to grow. We’re delighted to be a part of this and that our customers can look forward to another six seasons of the Aviva Premiership on BT Sport.”
For BT, retaining the Aviva Premiership rugby contract was crucial following a repeated number of setbacks in its bid to expand its rugby portfolio.
It lost out to Sky for the rights to England’s autumn internationals and overseas tours and maintaining a presence in the sport beyond 2017 will be essential if it decides to bid to show Six Nations games, with tournament organisers having already indicated they are ready to consider offers from pay-TV networks for the 2018 championship and beyond.
ITV currently holds the rights to air free-to-air highlights of Aviva Premiership matches on ITV and ITV4 on Sunday evenings, in a deal which runs through to the end of the 2016/17 season, with the broadcaster also holding exclusive live rights to the 2015 Rugby World Cup which will be staged in England this autumn.