Premier League tv threat to League of Ireland

The League of Ireland is facing a formidable threat to its future attendances after the English Premier League confirmed it will screen live Friday night games from 2016.

Premier League tv threat to League of Ireland

Up to 10 Premier League games will be shown live on Friday evenings under the terms of the new broadcasting rights agreement, which was confirmed yesterday.

The Premier League has issued invitations to tender (ITT) for the broadcast rights for three seasons starting in August 2016 with 168 live matches available in total — 14 more than are currently shown and which means that 44% of all Premier League games will be available live. The auction is expected to herald another bumper pay-day for top-flight clubs.

There will be seven packages available, as under the current system, but it is understood the Monday night package will include up to 10 games to be played on Friday night.

Although the League of Ireland is a summer competition, the crossover period would likely mean direct fixture clashes with early and late-season SSE Airtricity League games.

And other sporting organisations who hold fixtures on Friday nights — notably the Pro12 Rugby competitions — could also find themselves battling to pull prospective fans away from the tv.

No broadcaster will be able to show more than five packages or 126 matches in total, guaranteeing at least two packages and 42 games to a second broadcaster.

The announcement will fire the starting gun on the contest to secure the live rights, with current rights holders BSkyB and BT Sport set to bid again.

One unknown factor is whether Qatar-based beIN Sports enters the bidding war — but even if it does not the stakes are likely to be raised even higher than the current £3.018 billion (€3.8 billion) and ensure another record domestic rights deal for the Premier League clubs.

The ITT will also include bids for a free-to-air highlights package, and ITV is expected to challenge the BBC, which has held the rights since 2004 on its Match of the Day programmes.

The bidding process for the highlights and the live rights is expected to be completed within the next four months with a decision announced in March.

The ITT also comes despite the media regulator Ofcom opening an investigation into how the Premier League sells its broadcast rights, following a complaint by Virgin Media.

League chiefs have taken the decision not to delay the ITT — not least because the Ofcom investigation could take up to two years. Increasing the number of games made available live however could be seen as a move towards trying to satisfy Ofcom.

The Premier League has insisted however that the Saturday 3pm kick-off time remains sacrosanct, and that matches played at that time will not be shown live.

It said in a statement announcing the details of the ITT: “This creates an attractive offering for broadcasters and fans; whilst allowing the continued protection of the Saturday 3pm ’closed period’ – the purpose of which is to encourage attendances.”

After the sale of the live rights is completed, a separate sales process will take place for two other packages – a “near-live” package of 212 matches for on-demand exploitation – and an internet-based clips package for all matches.

Once the domestic rights sale is completed, league chiefs will then turn their attention to selling the overseas broadcast rights, which for the current three-year package brought in another £2.5bn.

Meanwhile RTÉ confirmed yesterday it has retained the TV and online rights to Wednesday night matches in the Champions League until 2018.

The agreement will include all games up to and including the 2017/18 final.

RTÉ Head of Sport Ryle Nugent said: “Retaining live free-to-air Wednesday night rights and highlights is in keeping with RTÉ Sport’s aim of bringing national teams, national games and, in the case of the Champions League, major events to Irish audiences.”

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