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Pro14 and Premier Sports agree on BBC highlights in logical conclusion

Highlights from rugby union’s Pro14 will return to public-service television in the UK after the BBC struck a deal to show an hour-long programme on Sunday and Monday evenings.

The agreement will be welcomed by supporters, but also by Premier Sports, the subscription broadcaster that is the tournament’s main rights-holder in the UK.

In landing the rights from 2018-19 to 2020-21, Premier Sports also took on the commitment to broadcast a highlights programme as the regional BBC channels in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales failed to negotiate an agreement to retain highlights after losing their live rights.

The new accord would appear to represent a logical conclusion for fans and rights-holders alike, especially given that Premier Sports recently raised questions over why it was investing in highlights programming, given its need to focus on the live product.

The BBC has secured the highlights rights in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales for the rest of the 2019-20 season and the 2020-21 campaign.

Additional highlights of the Welsh teams’ fixtures will be shown as part of BBC Wales’ popular ‘Scrum V’ highlights and analysis show on Sunday evenings. Some free-to-air coverage was retained in Wales when the new rights live contracts kicked in last season, however, as S4C shows one live and two delayed games per match week.

Highlights coverage will be shown in Wales at 5pm on Sundays (on Scrum V) and again on Mondays at 10.35pm, while BBC Northern Ireland viewers can watch the highlights at 11.15pm on Monday and BBC Scotland will air its highlights at 7pm on Monday.

Viewers in the UK will also be able to watch the hour-long highlights programme on the BBC iPlayer from 7pm on Monday evenings.

Any sublicense of the highlights by Premier Sports to a free-to-air broadcaster required the approval of Pro14.

Pro14 Rugby today extended its “gratitude to Premier Sports for their part in this new partnership and reminds fans that every Guinness Pro14 game can be viewed on Premier Sports live in HD”.

Speaking in September, Premier Sports chief executive Richard Sweeney told WalesOnline that he was “not too sure if the highlights programme on the Sunday works”.

He said: “I’m not too sure what we are going to do with the highlights this year. I sometimes feel maybe that [Welsh-language channel] S4C or the BBC should be doing the highlights show. Everything’s a possibility.

“Are we as a premium channel gaining the benefit for the cost that’s involved? Are people a bit annoyed that it’s not what they are used to from a highlights programme, which is a magazine-style show? Are we the right place to deliver something like that? Is it for somebody else to look after those highlights?”

Sweeney noted that Premier Sports had “focused so much on getting these 152 games out [live] and making sure nothing was going to go wrong and delivering the promise we made, a promise which people didn’t believe we were going to fulfil”.

He added: “With the Scottish Cup [to which Premier Sports holds live rights], it works a little better, because BBC Scotland do the highlights show, a nice magazine show around it. It’s great, people love it, they get a feel of it and then they come to us to watch the live games and it actually works.

“It’s not for us to say who should be doing the Pro14 highlights. That’s more for the Pro14.”

The acquisition of the Pro14 rights was the catalyst for Premier Sports to significantly improve its production quality. The broadcaster has invested a seven-figure sum in production with 95 per cent of that spend on the live output of all 152 games per season. One game per match week is shown live on its free-to-air FreeSports channel.

Commenting on the new BBC agreement, Dermot Rigley, commercial director at Pro14 Rugby, said: “There has always been wide-spread interest in our highlights but choosing to work alongside BBC once again allows us to pick up on a relationship that we know will deliver the right result for sports fans. BBC were on hand at our very first Celtic League Final in 2001 and played a part in our journey over the subsequent years, so it is fantastic that they return at a time when the Guinness PRO14 has never been stronger.”