Virgin Media Ireland, the commercial broadcaster, has come back into the fold to show top-tier pan-European soccer, by securing rights to one game per week from the prestigious Uefa Champions league for the next three seasons.
Virgin, which looked set to miss out on Champions League rights for the upcoming 2021-22 to 2023-24 cycle (after holding rights between 2018 and 2021) when public-service broadcaster RTÉ extended its own deal for the main Tuesday night package in March – with no hint of a renewal from Virgin at that point – will instead show one game each Wednesday night.
It had looked like the broadcaster's days of showing Champions League action were over a few months ago, when Virgin Media Television’s managing director Paul Farrell said, after the RTÉ renewal, that the broadcaster was “disappointed” it had not secured its own extension at that point but was also “happy to walk away” rather than pay more than the value the company had placed on the rights.
However, the broadcaster is now back in the game through what has been reported as a sub-licensing arrangement with LiveScore, the international sports scores app which in June struck a deal to stream Champions League action (predominantly from the same Wednesday night rights package Virgin Media had held) to an Irish audience until 2024.
LiveScore will have exclusive free-to-air rights to 104 Champions League fixtures per season, with 33 – including the final – to be live-streamed on a non-exclusive basis.
The LiveScore-Uefa deal was brokered by Saran Media Group, the Turkey-based agency which assists the streaming company in negotiating and acquiring rights, and this latest sub-licensing deal with Virgin has reportedly been facilitated by the same agency.
The deal means that Champions League action in Ireland for the next three seasons will be shown by a combination of Virgin, RTÉ, LiveScore, and BT Sport, the pay-television broadcaster that holds exclusive Uefa club competition rights in the UK, and is also available in Ireland.
Virgin, through the same deal, has also secured rights to show every game from the second-tier Europa League, and will exclusively show all matches from the Europa Conference League, the third-tier pan-European competition starting next year (which has three Irish sides involved in its qualifying rounds this week).
Paul Higgins, vice-president of commercial at Virgin Media, has now said: “This confirms Virgin as the leading Irish sports hub including free-to-air viewing, the best home-produced commentary and analysis and exclusive customer content through Virgin Media Sport.”
Virgin, RTÉ and BT Sport shared Champions League rights during the 2018-19 to 2020-21 cycle.
Uefa and its Team Marketing agency issued two tenders in Ireland in January for the 2021-22 to 2023-24 cycle, one covering the Champions League and annual Super Cup, and one for the Europa League and Europa Conference League, with a deadline of 11 February set for bids.
For the last three years, Virgin has attracted an average of 200,000 viewers for its midweek Champions League coverage, with the largest audience coming for the 2019 final between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur when 633,000 tuned in.
After seemingly missing out in March, it was reported that the package of Wednesday night Champions League action in Ireland would go to a streaming service such as Amazon Prime, which has already landed rights to the competition in Germany and Italy.
Competition from Eir Sport, the Irish telecoms operator, and from UK and Ireland pay-TV broadcaster Premier Sports, was also reported.