Premiership Rugby matches will be shown live on mainstream terrestrial television for the first time in its history after Channel 5 secured a four-year deal to become the new free-to-air partner of the competition.
The agreement will see Channel 5 broadcast five live games each season from 2017-18 season, as well as show a highlights programme on Sunday evenings covering the Aviva Premiership, Anglo-Welsh Cup and Premiership Rugby 7s.
Channel 5 fought off competition from current terrestrial rights holders ITV to secure the rights following a competitive bidding process.
The broadcaster’s package of five live free-to-air games will also be simulcast on BT Sport, who will continue to broadcast up to 80 live Premiership games per season.
The deal with Premiership Rugby also sees Channel 5 secure the rights to broadcast a weekly highlights programme, which currently airs on ITV and ITV4.
The show will feature all the action from around the grounds and is set to be fronted by recognised names, as well as featuring the insights of former and current players.
Channel 5 will announce its production partner in due course, with Sunset+Vine, which currently produces BT Sport’s rugby coverage, as well as Channel 5’s EFL and cricket highlights, a possible contender.
Mark McCafferty, Chief Executive of Premiership Rugby, commented:
“This agreement with Channel 5 will supplement the brilliant, season-long coverage we have with BT Sport.
It will give even more fans a taste of the excitement, incredible skills and unpredictability on show in Premiership Rugby every week.
We have a very successful partnership with BT Sport that has seen our ratings grow by more than 40% across the last four years.
This new agreement with Channel 5 complements that partnership and will bring club rugby to a new audience to provide a fantastic shop window.”
This new deal for weekly club rugby union adds to Channel 5’s growing sports portfolio, which includes EFL football highlights, live boxing, motorsport, including live Formula E coverage and highlights of MotoGP and World Rally Championship, plus its acclaimed cricket highlights of all England home Tests and limited overs matches.
The broadcaster also showcased more live sport recently after providing a terrestrial home for live cricket for the first time in over a decade, when it broadcast five T20 fixtures from the Australian Big Bash League, which was also simulcast on BT Sport.
Paul Dunthorne, COO of Viacom Northern and Eastern Europe, owners of Channel 5, said:
“We’re delighted to build on our growing sports portfolio and give a terrestrial home to Premiership Rugby.
“This deal underlines our commitment to live sport following our coverage of the Big Bash League, with terrestrial TV viewers enjoying live cricket for the first time in over a decade.
“Premiership Rugby is one of the most exciting competitions in UK sport; we hope our national reach aligned with our commitment to the sport will enable Premiership Rugby to reach new audiences.”
Channel 5 becomes the first mainstream terrestrial broadcaster to show live Aviva Premiership rugby matches, although games have been broadcast on BT’s free-to-air BT Sport Showcase platform over the past two seasons.
On choosing Channel 5 as the new terrestrial home of Premiership Rugby from 2017-18, McCafferty added:
“In addition to the live matches Channel 5 will show Sunday night Premiership Rugby highlights at 8pm, which is vital to the continued growth of our competition. That appointment to view has been crucial in growing our live audiences on BT Sport and the same applies to the highlights show.
“The club game in England is booming with a 9% rise in attendances this season and a 44% increase in audiences watching Premiership Rugby since the league started broadcasting on BT Sport.
“This is coupled with a huge growth in our TV audiences around the world – Premiership Rugby is now available in 200 countries, reaching more than 175 million households globally.
“The 2017-18 season will be the 21st in Premiership Rugby history so what a way to celebrate that milestone than to have both BT Sport and Channel 5 broadcasting the best and most competitive league in the world.”
Incumbent rights holders ITV will see out the remainder of its current deal over the next month with highlights of the finale to the 2016-17 Aviva Premiership season, bringing an end to its coverage after nine years.
ITV took over from the BBC as the free-to-air home of Premiership rugby in 2008, with the broadcaster introducing regular weekly highlights of the competition for the first time.
Despite losing Aviva Premiership rights to Channel 5, rugby union will still continue to have a significant presence on ITV’s channels for the next few years after the network recently secured exclusive rights to the 2019 and 2023 Rugby World Cups, as well as the 2017 Women’s World Cup and the next two editions of the World Rugby Under-20 Championships.