RTE, the Irish public-service broadcaster, has extended and expanded its rights deal for European club soccer’s top-tier Uefa Champions League through to the end of the 2023-24 season.
RTE’s current three-year agreement to show the competition, struck in 2018, expires with this weekend's final between English clubs Manchester City and Chelsea, but the broadcaster has now renewed with Uefa and the Team Marketing agency for the next three campaigns.
Under the terms of the extension, RTE will again be able to show its pick of live matches from each Tuesday night and is adding the Champions League final and highlights from earlier in the competition.
RTE currently shares Champions League rights in Ireland with Virgin Media.
Guy Laurent-Epstein, Uefa’s marketing director, said: "UEFA is delighted to be continuing its long-standing partnership with RTE in the Republic of Ireland into the 201-24 cycle. The renewal ensures Irish football fans will continue to benefit from RTE’s high quality coverage.”
Declan McBennett, group head of RTE Sport, added: “Bringing Irish audiences the best sporting action free-to-air remains core to RTE Sport’s mission. The UEFA Champions League is recognised across the world as the premier club competition.”
The sales process for the 2021-24 rights cycle in Ireland began on 13 January, with broadcasters given until 11 February to submit bids.
Virgin Media also holds non-exclusive rights to the second-tier Europa League in Ireland.
BT Sport, the pay-television broadcaster that holds exclusive Uefa club competition rights in the UK, also broadcasts in Ireland, and has already renewed its deal for the next cycle.
Earlier this month, it was announced that Virgin and RTE were in long-form contract discussions with Six Nations Rugby to share rights to the top European national teams competition, which features Ireland, from the 2022 season onwards.
RTE has not shown Six Nations games live since 2017, with Virgin having held exclusive rights since then.
Meanwhile, senior executives at Uefa are said to be seriously considering plans to substantially alter the format of the final stages of the Champions League, with a Final Four incorporating two single-legged semi-finals and the final in one city in the same week from 2025 onwards.
The New York Times has reported that due to the success of last season’s knockout stages arrangement, in which three out of four quarter-finals, two single-leg semi-finals, and the final were all held over a short period of time in Libson, a similar format is being assessed as a permanent feature of the competition, potentially coming in for the 2024-25 season when a new rights cycle starts.
Last year’s Lisbon solution was only introduced due to travel-based and logistical restrictions in different countries around Europe caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but the New York Times has reported that it proved so popular with Uefa that the body is considering bringing it on a full-time basis.
The newspaper has cited several anonymous sources as saying the idea is under intense consideration, and that talks have been ongoing ever since the Lisbon experiment in early August last year, with data having shown television audiences remained stable during the week, and were unaffected by the altered format.
The idea would likely find favour amongst most of Europe’s domestic leagues, which regularly complain about the encroachment of Uefa competition fixtures on to their own calendars, and would prefer fewer Champions League games to be played in a more concentrated timeframe.
The plan would also involve concerts and other live entertainment events taking place in the host city over the week with the final to take place on a Saturday night.
After the week in Lisbon last year, Uefa’s president Alexander Ceferin indicated he preferred the single-leg format for the semi-finals, saying that if introduced permanently, the matches would be more attractive.