16 April 2021 The Irish Film & Television Network
Virgin Media Television “Happy to walk away” from Champions League as bidding war intensifies
05 Mar 2021 : News desk
Champions League
Virgin Media has said it is “happy to walk away” after being unable retain its rights to the UEFA Champions League coverage for the next three years.

Virgin previously held rights to all Champions League and Europa League matches during the current cycle, while RTÉ held a package of non-exclusive free-to-air rights to the first-pick Champions League match on Tuesdays.

The rights, which are awarded non-exclusively, have seen UK based pay-television broadcaster BT Sport also secured Champions League and Europa League rights in Ireland. BT has already retained its exclusive UEFA club competition rights in the UK for the new 2021-24 cycle, agreeing to pay £400m (€444m/$539m) per season.

While it is reported that RTÉ have retained its rights to Tuesday night matches for the three-season cycle beginning with the 2021-22 season, they are not taking on Virgin Media’s packages, which includes 15 out of the 16 group stage games each match day with the Irish Times this week suggesting that a new bidder had entered the fray. Despite Virgin increasing their bid this time out, they had been outbid by this new entrant to take Champions League packages.

There is some surprise at the intensity of the bidding with recent indications pointing to decreasing prices across Europe. The last Premier League rights auction in 2018 saw successful bids come in lower than the previous cycle while this year, the auction for the TV rights to France’s Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) saw bidders such as Amazon Prime Video, sports streaming service DAZN, and Eurosport, submitting offers below the reserve price. 

However, with Virgin exiting the fray early, it would appear that competition is fierce for the Irish Market. Speculation has been rife as to who this bidder is but according to reports, neither the would-be the aforementioned “Netflix of Sport” DAZN or Amazon Prime Video, are the final bidder. 

Amazon, in particular, has been ambitious in entering the international football market and aired its first Premier League games on St. Stephen’s Day 2019; showing all 10 of the day’s games, as well as matches that were on in the lead up to New Year. The company reportedly paid £90 million ($112 million) to broadcast 20 matches a season over the next three years.

The identity of the new bidder remains under wraps. 

Speaking to the Irish Times, Virgin Media Television Managing Director Paul Farrell said: “We made a competitive bid that was slightly higher than last time for the packages we wanted,” 

He added that while Virgin was “disappointed” it is also “happy to walk away” rather than overpaying for the rights.

Virgin Media Champions League presenter Tommy Martin tweeted his disappointment about the news. He thanked the staff that had worked on the coverage over the last ten years.

“Disappointing news about Champions League rights but you can’t win ’em all,” Martin said. “Has been brilliant working with so many talented people in front and especially behind the camera over the last decade or so. We will charge on for the rest of the season, onwards and upwards!”

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