RTE axes its Premier League show to save station €1.3m a year
RTE will no longer cover the English Premier League after the station decided not to open negotiations for a new contract for exclusive rights for the next three years.
The Irish Independent has learnt that the show will not return in August in a bid to save the station up to €1.3m a year.
The move brings to an end a 15-year show, which was first broadcast in 1998 as the 'Premiership' up to its current title 'Premier Soccer Saturday'.
Over the years, it has featured panellists including Eamon Dunphy, Johnny Giles, Graeme Souness, Liam Brady, Ray Houghton and Ronnie Whelan, and has in the past been anchored by Bill O'Herlihy.
The decision to axe the show means that RTE will instead now focus on GAA, Six Nations rugby, Olympics and the Irish national soccer team.
It leaves the way open for the likes of Setanta and TV3 to take up the Irish rights to Premier League soccer highlights, which brought in around 200,000 viewers for RTE.
In a memo to staff last night, RTE group head of sport Ryle Nugent said: "I'm sorry to report that we no longer have the rights to our television coverage of the Premier League."
Mr Nugent explained that the decision came due to "significant financial challenges and TV sport" and that he and his department would continue to "deliver quality programming with significantly less resources".
He added: "This is a hard choice to make and I won't pretend that the news is anything other than a biting disappointment.
"We have recently announced new contracts for television and radio in soccer, with the Republic of Ireland European and World Cup qualifiers, home and away, until 2018.
"In addition, we have secured the World Cup finals of 2014, 2018 and 2022. In rugby, we have secured the national team's matches in the Six Nations and autumn internationals until the end of 2017.
"This summer we will begin the process of renegotiating with the GAA and I will have definitive news on the Summer Olympics in 2016 in the coming week."
In May, RTE director-general Noel Curran, appearing before an Oireachtas Communications Committee, said RTE is working to break even for the year 2013. At the same meeting, he also said no presenter would be paid over €500,000 by the time this year's contract negotiations had concluded. He said top presenters had been paid too much when earnings had become overly inflated during the boom.
RTE's Premier League coverage has been a Saturday staple for households around the country for 15 years, and prided itself on being ahead of the BBC's 'Match of the Day' and Sky Sports highlights packages. An RTE insider pointed to the fact that none of the top teams in England feature Irish players in their squads, including Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.