Virgin Media and Premier Sports continue Rugby League World Cup dispute

The stand-off between UK pay-television channel Premier Sports and pay-television operator Virgin Media over coverage of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup shows no sign of abating ahead of the tournament’s kick-off later this month.

Premier Sports will air all 28 matches from the tournament, which is being hosted by England and Wales, but despite three years of talks, the channel still has not secured a carriage deal on the Virgin Media platform.

Last week the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group of MPs, chaired by Greg Mulholland, urged Virgin Media to strike a deal with Premier Sports.

Virgin’s executive director of content, Stephane David, has now said the operator made an approach to Premier Sports, but it was rejected by the channel.

David told the website: “We’d be happy to add Premier Sports to our extensive line-up of 15 sports channels, which includes Sky Sports and BT Sport in HD, and we’ve offered them the opportunity to broadcast on Virgin Media’s TV platform on a similar premium basis as they do elsewhere. Sadly Premier Sports has declined the offer, although we hope they will reconsider as discussions continue.”

In response, Premier Sports’ general manager Richard Sweeney said the crux of the issue was the channel’s desire to be included on Virgin’s standard XL package and not alongside Sky Sports and BT Sport as a ‘premium’ channel that requires extra payment from customers on top of their monthly subscription.

Sweeney said: “It was Virgin Media who first approached Premier Sports about going on the XL platform and withdrew from those discussions at the same time a deal for BT Sport was agreed. The negotiations over the summer were only focused on XL and Premier Sports were happy to proceed on that basis.”

He added: “To suggest Premier Sports should accept premium on Virgin because it is premium on Sky fails to address that Virgin Media’s premium terms are very different to Sky’s, hence Premier has never been interested in negotiating on that basis.”

Public service broadcaster the BBC will broadcast seven World Cup matches live across the UK and carry the rest of the games on its Five Live and Five Live Sports Extra radio stations.

The tournament kicks off on October 26.