BKT, the automotive tire firm, has today (September 2) been announced as the title sponsor in the northern hemisphere for rugby union’s United Rugby Championship (URC) until 2025.

For the next three years, the 16-team league – featuring sides from Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Italy, and South Africa – will be known commercially as the BKT United Rugby Championship through a deal brokered by the Italian agency Havas Sports & Entertainment. 

BKT will only act as the competition’s title partner in the northern hemisphere, however. In South Africa, local telecoms giant Vodacom holds the rights in that country, through a four-year deal struck in September 2021.

The URC – rebranded from the Pro14 in 2021, with the addition of South African teams – has said the deal will allow BKT to “open up its voice and connection with 16 teams across … to connect with the league’s audiences and establish itself as a key supporter of rugby.”

Martin Anayi, chief executive at the United Rugby Championship, has said: “Attracting a global partner of BKT’s scale speaks to the appeal of rugby and to the diversity and identity of our league. The success of our debut season as URC caught the imagination of fans and the interest from potential partners has really come to life.”

Lucia Salmaso, chief executive of BKT Europe, added: “We are so proud to be the title sponsor of URC, a league recognized around the world with a mission to grow rugby that reflects and promotes the values which are at the basis of our activities. BKT will support the URC and its fans with its positive attitude, its passion for sports, and its enthusiastic ideas, by engaging and including the whole audience.”

The tire firm adds the URC to a growing stable of sports sponsorship deals, which includes tie-ups with the Rugby World Cup 2023 organizing body in France, cricket’s Big Bash League in Australia, and the top-tier Euroleague basketball competition.

It also has agreements in place with soccer leagues including Spain’s top-tier LaLiga, Italy’s second-division Serie B (which it title sponsors), and Ligue 2 in France. 

The LaLiga deal, which also runs until 2025, was the last to be struck, in mid-May.

In mid-August, meanwhile, figures were released that showed the audience for the 2021-22 URC campaign reached 34.6 million people across over 7,000 hours of coverage.

It was announced last year that the Pro14 competition was being rebranded as the URC, with four top South African teams – the Sharks, Stormers, Lions, and Bulls – joining 12 established sides from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales in a 16-team league.

The URC comprises one division, as opposed to two conferences in the old competition, with each team to play 18 regular season fixtures, leading to playoffs, and a grand final next June.

Free-to-air (FTA) coverage has been flagged as a key component of the URC’s broadcast strategy, with Italy’s Mediaset making its debut as a broadcast partner for the 2021-22 season and Ireland’s RTÉ and BBC Wales returning as FTA partners for the league. They joined existing FTA broadcast partners TG4 (Ireland), S4C (Wales), and BBC Northern Ireland.

Last season also saw the launch of URC TV, the league’s streaming service that is available to fans watching in Ireland, Europe (except the UK), the US, and several other territories.

In the UK, the URC has a four-year rights deal with Premier Sports, the pay-television broadcaster.

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