BT Sport has struck a deal with Premiership Rugby that will see it air every game that is played behind closed doors for the rest of the season after the league’s resumption.
English rugby union’s top tier returns to action from August 14, having initially been suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic on March 16.
With no fans presently being allowed into the venues, BT Sport will make all games available to supporters – including those who do not currently subscribe to its service, working alongside clubs to offer free access to broadcasts of home games to season ticket holders through the BT Sport app.
As it stands, the arrangement will see BT Sport broadcast all 57 remaining fixtures, though there remains the potential for limited numbers of fans to be allowed into games in the future.
The Premiership Final is set to be played on October 24, and the league is hopeful of having some spectators at that game. Those hopes were dealt a blow last week, however, when plans to reintroduce fans to certain pilot events in the UK were shelved due to a spike in Covid-19 cases.
Once stadiums are deemed safe for fans to return, BT Sport will revert to its standard exclusive rights deal, airing multiple live games per round.
Speaking to SportBusiness, Simon Green, head of BT Sport, confirmed that the broadcaster would work alongside subscription OTT streaming service DAZN to deliver across-the-board coverage of the Premiership.
Green said: “Those non-BT Sport games would already have had an eight-camera outside broadcast set up, executed by DAZN, which usually provides the necessary world feed, highlights packages and video facilities for television match officials to Premiership Rugby.
“Those games are again going to be produced by DAZN, but in a change, we will make those games available on the BT Sport app for as long as fans are unable to attend games in person.”
The host broadcast of the BT Sport matches shown normally by the broadcaster as part of its rights contract is handled by Sunset+Vine, the UK-based production company.
The agreement for coverage of all matches mirrors that struck by football’s Premier League, which saw every game after its restart made available to fans through one of its domestic broadcasters, including BT Sport, Sky Sports, Amazon Prime and the BBC. As it has for the Premier League, Bundesliga and Uefa Europa League so far, BT Sport will offer viewers a choice of watching certain Premiership Rugby games with artificial crowd noise.
“We realise that there is still a huge demand for watching live sport, but we’ve also learned how important crowds are to live events,” said Green.
“It was important for us to offer the option to opt in to the crowd noise, and to offer authentic crowd noise. We use bespoke records from home games with the team involved, sometimes we’re able to use the crowd noise from a particular match so we even have a bit of relevant away fan noise as well, and our rugby coverage will adopt the same practice.”
He added: “We’re happy to work with the Premiership on its return, particularly on the basis that home crowds are missing out on those games they expected to be able to attend.
“All things going well and there being no second wave, we’re anticipating that sport will soon start to allow perhaps limited crowds back in. And so we will have to kind of review the situation once that happens.
“Until then, we will continue to offer home fans the opportunity to watch all their team’s games, and we firmly believe that is the right thing to do under these extraordinary circumstances.”