HEC Future: What are Sky doing?

While the ERC continues to wring its hands and the Irish provinces worry about who they are going to play, people seem to have forgotten about the real victim here:



Last Sunday, while winding his way through an interminable amount of shirts to be ironed, Egg found himself watching rugby on Sky. Not just any rugby, but a DOUBLE HEADER, LIVE from Sandy Park – Plymouth Albion vs Jersey followed by Cornish Pirates vs Bristol! Oooooooooooooooooooooooooohh!!!

The Sky hype machine was in overdrive for this one – the big guns of Greenwood, Quinnell and Morris were all on show, and the high praise of the Jersey scrum-ha ….. MAKE IT STOP. Greenwood looked white as a sheet, and while he feigned enthusiasm, he was surely thinking this was a step too far. Championship rugby?  On Sky?  Purr-lease.

While McCafferty has been throwing BT Sport’s megabucks in everyone’s faces while bumming and blowing about his flash new Anglo-French Cup, what has Sky’s response been?

We’d be interested in knowing what (if anything) has been going on behind the scenes with Rupert Murdoch’s minions. Here is the way we see it:

  • The HEC, which appears (judging by their self-promotion) to be one of the key products in Sky’s sports offering, is on the brink of going to a growing rival broadcaster
  • Sky, being the incumbent, not only have a store of goodwill from their history with the tournament, but the advantage of being the “safe option” – surely club owners recall how Setanta Sports and ITV Digital blowups a few years back impacted TV revenue to mid-level UK soccer clubs
  • The French clubs are the key constituency in this debate – you don’t need to cater to the English clubs (who have already dropped you), as they need the French on board to be at least semi-viable, or the Celtalians (who you have already signed up). Have a word with Serge Blanco

Are Sky compromised due to non-disclosure elements of the existing deal? Is there a new one on the table? Could they put out some well-timed press hints about a few millions on offer to stay on board with the ERC? Publicly, nothing seems to be happening, but in this new world, money talks. And Sky have plenty of it.

PS Don’t forget Allen Stanford



  1. Amiga500

     /  September 19, 2013

    Was Barnsey not waxing lyrical about ooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhh Niall O’Connor?

    [who, to be fair to him, saved our asses last year against Zebre and Treviso!]

  2. Michael Robinson

     /  September 19, 2013

    Rugby is just a sideshow in the battle between BT and Sky. Football is the key as this pulls in vastly more subscriptions than rugby. Minority sports like rugby, WWE, golf and the rest of them will attract some hard core supporters who will subscribe just for that sport, but really it is just a basket of stuff to pad out the schedule between football, and for the footy fans who may also have interest in other sports.

    As you mentioned, the key thing is whether BT will stay the course (unlike ITV Digital, Setanta, ESPN…) but it will take several years while this plays out and both companies’ subscriber numbers will be scrutinised in great detail by the financial analysts whenever they are published.

    Clearly the ultimate for BT is for customers to take TV, broadband and phone from BT, but if large numbers of customers stick with Sky for TV but use BT for broadband and phone, therefore get BT Sport on Sky anyway, I don’t know if this will be viewed as a success by BT or not.

    From a competitive perspective, Sky is the dominant market player for pay TV with about two thirds market share, so Ofcom, the UK market regulator, really won’t care if BT takes market share from Sky.

    BT are coming from the perspective of a major player in broadband and clearly they want to protect that, but ultimately they will be limited as to how much they can grow their broadband market share before other competitors cry foul and Ofcom steps in.

    Sky’s DNA is a TV broadcaster while BT’s DNA is a network service provider… with a TV bit recently stuck on the side. In the UK, BT and Virgin are the only providers rolling out high speed (>20Mb) broadband infrastructure so even Sky needs to use BT for their Sky Fibre broadband. BT will get money for broadband whatever so I can’t see them pumping cash into BT Vision indefinitely without seeing a decent return.

    • Highly instructive post, Michael, thanks for posting!

      I think the day I realised Sky was all about soccer was on Heineken Cup final weekend in Edinburgh in 2009. They had 35 minutes build up before the final, though I didn’t see it because I was in thr ground. The following day we went to the pub to watch the last day of the Premiership. The only thing at stake was relegation and three was four hours build-up to ‘Relegation Sunday’ or whatever they called it. As it happened, all four teams in the contest for survival lost dismally, so the table remained completely unchanged.

      • Michael Robinson

         /  September 19, 2013

        I used to be a “Murdoch minion” but don’t have any connection with Sky now (other than as a subscriber)

      • Just to prove Michael’s point: First BT footie match, 536,000 average viewership; first BT rugby match, 67,000 average viewership. Sky would expect over a million for Stoke vs. Hull; some years the HEC final doesn’t draw that.

        There are two ways of looking at BT Sports:
        (1) 1.5 billion all in over several years is peanuts for a 25 billion pound company, they certainly won’t hit the funding issues Setanta did, and will be around for a while
        (2) The business case is flawed, 95% of viewers are watching through Sky, Virgin etc. and are therefore classified as Sky or Virgin customers, therefore the central business aim of protecting broadband is not being fulfilled, and it could get pulled at any time e.g. the next AGM where there’s a set of bad results, or whenever the CEO or some boardmembers change.

        Who knows!

    • Amiga500

       /  September 19, 2013

      I take issue with your post.

      [1]It will always be the WWF.

      and [2] golf is not a sport. No harm to him, but it should not be possible for Darren Clarke to win in anything that can be called a sport.

  3. lopez12

     /  September 19, 2013

    To be fair to Sky, they have shown championship games semi regulalry over the last few seasons even when they had the Aviva premiership. Commendable enough I would have thought.

    Enjoying the BT coverage all the same. Midweek show is good as are the “feature matches” on Fri and Sun..absolute joke what they do on a Saturday though with no build up and cut to football scores at HT!

  4. James St. John Smythe

     /  September 20, 2013

    Sky have been awfully quiet on this whole issue, here’s hoping they’re about to unleash a bazooka to defend the H Cup.

  5. toro toro

     /  September 21, 2013

    Cornish yokels playing a home game on sacred Sandy Park? Against Brizzle?

    Ugh. Jack Yeandle would turn over in his bed.

  6. contraflow

     /  September 23, 2013

    Cutting the cord. Parlance for ending your TV subscription. I just did it 2 months ago for a saving of EUR 400 a yr. My current viewing options are: Saorview; satellite dish for UK channels, smart TV apps Netflix/RTEplayer/3player; can get UK TVplayers on laptop using exPat shield which can then be connected to TV via HDMI and controlled by wireless mouse from couch if needs be.

    Basically soon TV subscriptions are going to fall off a cliff as people migrate to broadband based viewing. Sky know this and deliberately moved into broadband to prepare for this. BT also know it and are worried content-rich Sky are set to take a large section of their huge broadband network. If BT could take Sky’s content they could leverage their existing broadband network to reap a new revenue stream of sports subscriptions at Sky’s expense.

    People will pay for huge collections of media, hence Netflix. People will also pay for sports subscriptions, e.g. NFL’s online season ticket, watch your team or league rivals every time they play on any device; I would pay of this if a rugby version existed and it will sooner or later. Will I be giving money to Sky or BT or someone else? Currently EUR 7 to Netflix is the only outgoing I have for TV content despite having access to a multitude of content.

    Sky and BT are facing off in the opening battle of a huge war. The consequences for each company are massive. Consumers will ultimately win one way or the other i.e cheaper better coverage of hopefully something as good or better than the current Heineken Cup. I just hope Irish rugby harvests some nice TV candy for the betterment of our game.

  7. Michael Robinson

     /  September 23, 2013

    The irony is that Sky’s coverage of the Championship games got more viewers (83,000) than BT Sport’s coverage of the Aviva Premiership (75,000)

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