European club rugby will return to terrestrial television for the 2018/19 season after Channel 4 won the rights to screen selected European Champions Cup matches live for the next four years.
Channel 4 will broadcast nine live matches each season from the Champions Cup, the pinnacle of European club rugby union, starting in October, marking the competition’s return to live free-to-air television after a 15-year absence.
The deal with tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), includes one match from each of the six pool stages, one quarter-final, a semi-final and the final.
Channel 4 will simulcast there selected live matches with BT Sport, who were confirmed as the exclusive pay-TV rights holders for the next four seasons in July 2017, after outbidding rivals Sky Sports for the deal.
Both Sky and BT currently share the rights to European Club rugby, with this four-year deal expiring at the end of the 2017/18 season.
Channel 4’s new deal with EPCR marks its first ever entry into live rugby union coverage and the return of European club rugby to UK terrestrial television since the BBC covered live matches from the former Heineken Cup until 2003, though ITV4 did show weekly highlights of the competition between 2010 and 2012.
It now means that all the major free-to-air broadcasters in the UK have rugby union as part of their televised sporting portfolios.
The BBC, which shows Wales and Scotland’s autumn internationals and Guinness Pro14 matches, shares Six Nations rights with ITV, who hold exclusive Rugby World Cup rights for the 2019 and 2023 tournaments, while Channel 5 will cover five live Aviva Premiership matches per season until 2021 as well as a weekly highlights show.
Commenting on Channel 4’s first foray into rugby union, Stephen Lyle, Channel 4 Sports Commissioning Editor, said:
“We’re thrilled to be bringing top class rugby to Channel 4.
“The Champions Cup is one of the most prestigious rugby union tournaments featuring many of the best players in the world and I’m sure viewers will be delighted to see it returning to free to air television.”
European Champions Cup rugby adds to Channel 4’s sporting portfolio which also includes exclusive coverage of the Paralympic Games and Formula 1.
EPCR Marketing and Commercial Director, Carsten Couchouron, added:
“To have live Champions Cup rugby on Channel 4 will take the outstanding rugby experiences to more fans so we are delighted to increase our coverage through this partnership.
“Channel 4 has an exciting sports portfolio and we are delighted to add to that as part of our enhanced broadcast platforms in the United Kingdom.”
The battle to be crowned champions of European rugby begins in October and Channel 4 will bring live coverage of the drama round by round up to and including the final which will be held in Newcastle in May.
Further details of Channel 4’s coverage, including presenting line-up, commentary team and production partner to produce its Champions Cup programming, will be confirmed in due course.