independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

BT Sport in sponsorship negotiations with Irish provinces

Provincial captains(L-R) Johann Muller (Ulster), Leo Cullen (Leinster), Paul O'Connell (Munster) and Gavin Duffy (Connacht)

BT Sport is looking to extend its sporting empire by negotiating sponsorship deals with the four Welsh regions and four Irish provinces, as the row over next year’s European Cup shows little sign of resolution.

BT sponsors both Edinburgh and Glasgow in the RaboDirect Pro12, with its logo on both teams’ shirts, and next season the league’s matches will be shown on Sky for the first time.

It is understoof that negotiations are at an advanced stage. “BT is keen to have positive relationships with Welsh, Scottish and Irish regions so it’s no surprise that we are reaching out to them,” a BT source said.

The broadcaster’s move to expand its Celtic empire is part of a wider battle with Sky. BT recently outbid Sky for the Uefa Champions League, securing a three-year £900million deal, and executives will doubtless relish the prospect of their logo appearing prominently on Sky broadcasts in the RaboDirect Pro12. “Rugby is at the heart of BT Sport and so we talk to people all the time,” a BT statement said.

“We plan to build on the successful start we have made.” The Welsh regions’ future, of course, is far from certain. They have until Dec 31 to sign the new participation agreement with the Welsh Rugby Union, but have been advised legally not to do so. One option being explored vigorously is entry into the Aviva Premiership.

It is also thought that part of the BT deals in Wales is dependent on the calibre of player still in Wales next season, with six prominent players – including Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny – all yet to agree deals with their regions.

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