Champions Cup matches to be shown live on free-to-air TV next season in huge boost for rugby fans
Champions Cup matches will be shown live on free-to-air television in the UK and Ireland next season for the first time since 2003, The Talk of Rugby can reveal.
It is understood EPCR, the tournament organisers, are on the verge of striking a deal with Channel 4 and Irish station TV3 to bring European Cup matches back on terrestrial television for the first time since 2003.
The deal will see at least one match shown on Channel 4 and TV3 during each of the six pool stages and may also include some of the knock-out stages.
BT Sport, the pay-TV broadcasters, secured the rights last July to show the majority of the matches from next season to 2022. The tournament is currently shared between BT Sport and Sky Sports.
However EPCR indicated last summer it was also been keen to accept bids for some limited free-to-air coverage in order to boost the profile of the tournament and an announcement to confirm the Channel 4 and TV3 is expected next month.
Negotiations are currently focusing on the complex selection process for the pick of games each weekend, which also includes beIN Sports and France Télévisions, but it is understood that a deal is close to being struck.
The last time European Cup matches were shown live on terrestrial TV was back in 2003 when the BBC and RTE used to broadcast live matches in the old Heineken Cup before ERC, the tournament organisers, sold the rights to Sky Sports.
The move will represent a huge boost for supporters, given the increasing trend for club and international rugby to be shown on pay-TV channels.
The Pro 14 has come under strong criticism for opting to sell their rights to little-known subscription channels Premier Sports and Eir Sport, ending long-running deals with region BBC stations such as BBC Wales and Northern Ireland.
The new deal does not impact on the existing contract with BT Sport, which is understood to be happy to share some of the broadcasting of live games to increase the profile of the tournament, with the hope of then attracting new subscribers.