Premiership Rugby makes free-to-air breakthrough with Channel 5 deal

Premiership Rugby, the governing body of the top division of English rugby union, has struck a four-season rights deal with UK commercial broadcaster Channel 5 which will grant it live exposure on terrestrial television for the first time.

The agreement announced today (Thursday) will run across the 2017-18 to 2020-21 Premiership seasons. Financial terms were not disclosed but UK newspaper The Telegraph said the contract is worth more than £1m (€1.2m/$1.3m).

Under the deal, Channel 5 will broadcast five live matches each season, as well as show a highlights programme every Sunday night, covering Premiership Rugby, the Anglo-Welsh Cup and Premiership Rugby 7s.

Premiership Rugby said the new contract was agreed after a competitive bidding process. The live matches will be broadcast on a simulcast basis with the competition’s existing domestic rights partner, pay-television broadcaster BT Sport.

Mark McCafferty, Premiership Rugby chief executive, said: “We have a very successful partnership with BT Sport that has seen our ratings grow by more than 40 per cent 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.

“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 deal adds to Channel 5’s growing sports portfolio, which includes live boxing and the Formula E electric car racing championship, English Football League highlights as well as its England & Wales Cricket Board highlights package.

The channel also partnered with BT over Christmas to offer free-to-air coverage for live cricket for the first time in over a decade by broadcasting five fixtures from Australia’s Big Bash League.