The battle between the UK's two sports broadcasting heavyweights has seen an interesting development, with BT Sport announcing that they are to offer free Premier League coverage to its broadband customers.

The announcement will be one welcomed by BT internet customers far more than it will by BskyB, who can only view it as a further sign of BT's intent to launch a competitive challenge in the pay-tv market.

BT currently has 6.3 million broadband customers, and this is a clear indication that they will be looking to convert this considerable figure into pay-tv customers, of which they currently have just 750,000. This is dwarfed by Sky's 10 million pay-tv subscribers.

After the announcement by BT, BSkyB's shares were down by more than 6% at the close of play in London.

BT will provide all of its 38 Premier League games free to broadband customers, including 18 "first pick" matches, on three channels: BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN.

BBC Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones believes that while this may be a gamble, it is a strategy that will be looking for profits in the long-term rather than an instant return on their considerable investment, and ultimately that it is a gamble that may very well pay off.

"This is all about reinforcing BT's broadband business and making its customers less likely to head elsewhere.
More and more consumers are choosing to get their phone, TV and broadband services in one package - with Sky an obvious choice for many.

The satellite broadcaster has been Britain's fastest growing broadband supplier in recent years, winning many of its new customers from BT.

But for consumers there's the prospect of more choice and lower prices - which looks like good news."

Broadband packages on BT will cost from £10 a month

But customers who want to access the sports channels will also need to pay for a set top box, or pay an extra £5 per month for the basic television package.

That compares with Sky's offer of 116 Premier League matches, as part of a six-channel sports package that costs £42.50 per month for the first six months, and includes broadband internet.

BT Sport's channels will also show 69 live Aviva Premiership rugby matches per season, plus live football from leagues in Germany, France, Italy and Brazil.

Chief executive Ian Livingston said: "UK sports fans have had a rough deal for too long. Many have been priced out of the market, but we will change this by giving away BT Sport for free with our broadband.

"Sports fans are the winners today."

BT Sport is also taking on BSkyB in pubs and clubs, with an offer of 12 months' subscription for the price of nine, and a free installation offer lasting until 1 July.

About half the premises taking up the offer will end up paying £135 a month, BT said, while packages for hotels and betting shops could undercut Sky by 75%.

Gloucester Rugby are delighted to announce that ADEY Professional Heating Solutions have agreed a three year deal to become the club's new main sponsor.

The deal was announced at a press conference on Wednesday at Kingsholm Stadium, at which the club also unveiled a sneak preview of their new look home shirt for the 2013-14 season.

ADEY is an award winning Gloucestershire company that has enjoyed spectacular growth in recent years. The business invented and produces the MagnaClean filters that maintain and protect central heating systems in nearly two million UK homes.

The former Gloucestershire Business of the Year and Queen's Award for Innovation winner

continues to invest in ongoing product development. The company has previously been listed in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 as the fastest growing independent manufacturing business in the country.

Gloucester Rugby CEO Stephen Vaughan explained that the search for a new main sponsor had been a long, exhaustive one but that ADEY are absolutely the right partner going forward.

"It was hugely important to us to find the best possible match having enjoyed six great years with our previous main sponsor Jewson.

"The process has been ongoing since pretty much the start of the season, and we've obviously spoken to a number of potential partners with a high level of interest.

"However, ADEY are exactly the right fit. They're a young, dynamic company, a success story with their roots in the county. They also have aspirations to expand into Europe and we genuinely hope that we can help them achieve that.

"We're delighted to have them as Gloucester Rugby's new main sponsor and look forward to a long fruitful working relationship with them."

ADEY's Managing Director Kelvin Stevens accepted that the announcement represented a big step for a company that ten years ago was operating from a garden shed.

"We're used to moving quickly and taking sizeable steps and are delighted to be supporting Gloucester Rugby as main club sponsors. The sponsorship will raise our profile beyond the UK heating industry and help us continue our impressive growth in the future.

"While we clearly don't have the long tradition of one of the strongest and best supported rugby clubs in the country, we've come a long way and achieved a huge amount in a short period of time.

"Gloucester Rugby is built on pride and passion and similarly we're extremely passionate about what we do and proud of our success to date. We're a dynamic organisation, ambitious and we believe we've also got a team with exceptional potential.

"And, like Gloucester, we've set our sights firmly on success in Europe, so we have a lot in common.

"All of this is backed up by market leading products that protect heating systems and deliver tangible benefits for householders and the environment.

"We're really looking forward to working with Gloucester Rugby to ensure we communicate these positive messages and achieve our goals together."

As the current rugby season comes to its conclusion, with the top four Aviva Premiership sides competing in this weekend's semi-finals, the multimillion-pound marketing strategy for new rugby broadcaster BT Sport's debut season is already well under way.

Having already forked out £1 billion on TV rights across a range of sports, including up to 69 Aviva Premiership matches per season and 32 Premiership football matches per season, on top of a 10-year lease at their new studio at the Olympic Park in Stratford, it is clear that BT Sport are certainly entering this for the long haul. The task that BT Sport now have to tackle is taking on the might and history of Sky in this domain, and generating enough interest that, ultimately, results in a return on their investment through viewer subscriptions.

BT Sport have recruited a number of high profile players, former players and broadcasting heavyweights, including World Cup winner Lawrence Dallaglio as the face of their Premiership rugby coverage, in a bid to convert the buzz that has surrounded their entrance into the market into subscriptions for their services.

Former BBC presenter and the new face of BT Sport's Premiership football coverage, Jake Humphreys, stressed that this is not a short-term plan simply to increase the number of internet connections.

"They are showing incredible ambition. They're talking 10 years plus, they're here for the long haul. I don't think you spend £738m on football rights to disappear after three years. You do it as part of a long-term plan."

BT Sport's marketing manager, Alfredo Garicoche, is more effusive still: "We're not thinking for the next two or three years, we're thinking for the next 20 or 30 years and even longer. We're here to play the game. We have the financial backing to play the game and play it well."

They also insist there is a gap in the market for a different kind of presentation, and to offer fans an alternative viewing experience to the one currently available with Sky.

"We've talked internally about it being sport with a smile," says Humphrey. "You want people to turn on and not be sure whether they're watching BT or the BBC. Really good production values, really nice, accessible, open coverage.

"You'll switch on first thing in the morning and won't want to switch off until last thing at night. That's the plan. It's important we give equal standing to everything. If you like rugby, the only place you'll be able to see it is on BT. We've got the tennis. It's important all the other sport is on a level playing field."

The combination and equal footing that BT Sport are placing on the various sports is reflected through marketing photoshoots featuring Everton FC player Marouane Fellaini challenging the Saracens No8 Ernst Joubert as he leaps for a lineout and Humphrey avoiding tennis balls fired at him by Heather Watson, Garicoche adds: "Our style is going to be different. We like to say it's sport with colour, sport with fun. More engaging and approachable maybe. We like the word inclusive as well."

Ads have already appeared in a select amount of out of home spots, carrying the strapline "Great sport happens here".

The telecoms company is set to officially unveil the BT Sport 1 and BT Sport 2 channels at a press event this Thursday (9 May) at the former Olympic Park where they will be based.

Powered by The Official Technology Provider Microsoft, The Lions Official smartphone and tablet app gives fans the chance to stay close to the action down under with exclusive player interviews, in-depth reviews of the venues and a whole host of other features to really maximise the interactive experience for Lions fans.

Fans can also see which players have been voted the most popular by the Lions supporters and share their selections on Facebook.

Launching the app, Warren Gatland, British & Irish Lions Head Coach said, "The support of The Lions fans, both home and abroad, is truly inspiring and they really do become a sixteenth man. We're excited to launch the innovative app which celebrates the 125th anniversary of The British & Irish Lions, and provides in-depth knowledge of The Tour this summer, bringing fans closer to the action."

Scott Dodds, general manager, marketing and operations, Microsoft, said, "We're working closely with The British & Irish Lions to offer immersive fan experiences through the power of technology. We understand how people want to access information and the app allows fans to connect with The Tour while on the go with their smartphone or tablet."

The app also includes the following features:
News section:
•Interviews with Lions legends and Wallaby heroes from previous series

2013 Tour:
•Fixtures - full schedule and locations of The British & Irish Lions Tour 2013
•Opposition - read-up on the teams who will face The British & Irish Lions
•Match venues - get the lo-down on the stadiums which will host the Sea of Red this summer. Information includes imagery, address, date of game, capacity and the stadia's history with The British & Irish Lions
•The Tom Richards Trophy - named after one of only two players to have played for both the Lions and Australia, this section gives Lions fans the opportunity to read up on their history

Video Gallery:
•Interviews with past players
•2013 Tour Overview
•Lions supporters. Mike Teague explains the importance of touring and how supporters really make a difference

Sea of Red:
•Selection of Lions song sheets so fans can join in the roars of The Lions. Songs include Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Delilah, Jerusalem, The Fields of Athenry, Flower of Scotland, Bread of Heaven and Sospan Fach and Wild Rover.

Lions Legends
•Spotlight on key figures on the tour

The App will evolve over the coming months as the Squad is announced and they head on Tour. All player stats and bios will be included as well the latest official news, along with other unique behind the scenes insights. The app is available on Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Android and iOS.

It has been developed by Sequence, the Official App Developer of The British & Irish Lions.
Coming soon, The British & Irish Lions will announce how Microsoft's technology has revolutionised player preparation and made this the first Lions Tour with technology at its core.

It's been a busy week at the Connacht Rugby offices as demand for Season Tickets surged past the 2,000 mark. Over 1,000 season tickets were sold on Monday and Tuesday alone and sales have now easily surpassed those achieved in renewal windows in the previous two seasons.

Head of Marketing & Commercial Alex Saul spoke about the encouraging numbers:

"We were a bit later in opening up our season ticket campaign this year but despite that we've already surpassed the number of sales at this point last year. We've had over 2,300 fans sign up for next season, which is fantastic. The initial indications are that it will be another fantastic year at the turnstiles for Connacht Rugby."

"Our season ticket holders are the lifeblood of this club and that family is growing every year. We worked hard to create a really attractive package whilst balancing the club's needs to continue our growth and development. The reaction so far has shown that people can see the incredible value that's on offer here."

The pre-registration list has also been very successful with people who didn't hold a season ticket last year clambering to register their interest to avail of some very competitive early bird prices.

"Our exclusive renewals offer for current season ticket holders finished on Wednesday and we're now selling to an exclusive pre-registration list of 300 people. These fans are able to guarantee the best sections available at the best prices."

"All in all, it's been an exceptional few weeks and we expect some sections of the ground, like the popular Clan Terrace to sell out before the end of the month".

For full details of Connacht Rugby's 2013/14 season ticket offering including prices and availability please log on to www.connachtrugby.ie/tickets

Aviva Premiership side Leicester Tigers have announced that they have agreed an extension to their agreement with the clubs main sponsor Caterpillar for an additional three years.

Caterpillar, the world leading manufacturer of mining and construction equipment, will continue to have their logo appear across the front of the Tigers playing shirts, as the new strip for the 2013/14 season was unveiled.

Caterpillar Ltd's managing director, Robert Droogleever, said: "The close relationship between Caterpillar and Leicester Tigers has enabled us to positively engage with our customers, dealers and employees from around the globe in a fantastic sporting environment."

"As proud sponsors of Leicester Tigers, we are excited to continue our relationship with the club for a further three-year period."

Meanwhile – ahead of this weekend's match - Canterbury unveiled the new Leicester Tigers home shirt for the 2013/14 season, working together to develop the 'We are Tigers' campaign for the upcoming 2013/14 season.

Following an online competition, eight lucky fans were chosen to feature within the campaign and stand alongside the elite players wearing the new home shirt and training garments.

The new Tigers shirt is engineered using Canterbury's newest high performance fabric. A high performance 100% polyester elastane, the fabric delivers optimum strength and effective moisture management, making the shirt lightweight and comfortable. The elastane also delivers stretch, allowing a tight fit which doesn't restrict movement whilst allowing players to avoid tackles.

Geoff Parling, Canterbury ambassador and Leicester Tigers lock, added:
"Both the Tigers and Canterbury brands are steeped in rugby heritage and the traditional striped shirt is synonymous with the club's long history as one of the most successful and well-known rugby clubs in the world. The team are delighted with this smart, modern twist that Canterbury has applied to the classic Tigers shirt."

 

London's Olympic Stadium has been chosen to play host to five Rugby World Cup games in 2015.

13 other stadiums have been named in conjunction with the now-54,000 capacity arena. Twickenham Stadium will play host to three out of England's four pool games, the first of which will be played on the 18th September. The home of English Rugby will also host two quarter-finals, both semi-finals and the final itself.

The only other rugby grounds that have been selected are Cardiff's Millennium stadium, Gloucester's Kingsholm stadium and Exeter's Sandy Park. Eight Football stadiums will be used as the remaining venues including Wembley, St James Park, Elland Road, Etihad and Villa Park.

The Olympic Stadium will see the likes of rugby heavyweights New Zealand, South Africa and France gracing London's newest high-capacity stadium, as well as hosting the match between Ireland and Italy on Sunday October 4th. The tournaments bronze match will also be played at the east London stadium on Friday 30th October.

Sandy Park and Etihad Stadiums were added to the roster of World Cup venues after Manchester United's Old Trafford ground pulled out due to concerns over post-match pitch quality. The tournament organisers, England Rugby 2015, have to sell 2.9 Million tickets to cover the £80m guarantee owed to the International Rugby Board (IRB).

Not only do the stadiums that have been selected have high capacity, but have also been selected due to their geographical diversity, a massively important criteria for the tournament organisers when trying to maximise ticket sales and reach as large an audience as possible, especially in those regions where the sport does not command quite as big a draw and people are less likely to travel longer distances to watch live games.

The 37 strong British and Irish Lions squad to tour Australia was announced earlier today in London, with bookies favourite Sam Warburton awarded the captaincy.

As always, there were a few wildcard selections, as well as some thought-to-be certainties left out. Rory Best, Chris Robshaw and Jonny Wilkinson all missed out on selection, whilst Matt Stevens, who retired from international duty last summer was named in the final squad. Former British and Irish Lion Dan Lydiate was also named in the touring party, despite missing both the autumn internationals and RBS Six Nations through injury.

Many believed that, after his sterling performance at the home of English rugby in the Heineken Cup, Jonny Wilkinson would at least make the squad. However, Tour Manager Andy Irvine told BBC Radio 5 live "The truth is Jonny wasn't up for it. He ruled himself out, he told Warren that he feels his body isn't in the right shape to complete a tour like this. I admire his honesty and integrity."

Gatland's 37-man party contains a balance of experienced old hands, talented young thrusters and players with the required 'X factor' to provide something a little bit different.

Brian O'Driscoll will deservedly become only the third player ever - and the third Irishman - to go on four Lions tours. Two other legends, Willie John McBride and Mike Gibson, both made five.

Ireland's Paul O'Connell and Welshman Gethin Jenkins are summoned for their third tour of duty, while nine other players will be embarking on a second Lions adventure.

The 10-match tour opens against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on 1st of June, with Tests against Australia on June 22nd (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane), June 29th (Etihad Stadium, Melbourne) and July 6th (ANZ Stadium, Sydney).

Backs: Leigh Halfpenny, Stuart Hogg, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Alex Cuthbert, Sean Maitland, George North, Jonathan Davies, Brian O'Driscoll, Jamie Roberts, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Mike Phillips, Ben Youngs.

Forwards: Dan Cole, Cian Healy, Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones, Matt Stevens, Mako Vunipola, Dylan Hartley, Richard Hibbard, Tom Youngs, Ian Evans, Richie Gray, Alun-Wyn Jones, Paul O'Connell, Geoff Parling, Tom Croft, Toby Faletau, Jamie Heaslip, Dan Lydiate, Sean O'Brien, Justin Tipuric, Sam Warburton

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) Board of Directors has considered the independent audit carried out on all four clubs in the Championship semi-finals, with only Bedford Blues of the four Chammpionship semi-finalists failing to meet the Minimum Standard Criteria (MSC) set out for eligibility for promotion to the Aviva Premiership.

The audit, carried out by independent auditors PMP legacy, found Newcastle Falcons, Leeds Carnegie and Nottingham Rugby all suitable for promotion to English rugby's top tier. Bedford Blues, however, were the only team who failed to meet the MSC.

Bedford, who face Nottingham in their semi-final clash, have 14 days to appeal the decision. At the clubs AGM last month the Blues Chairman Geoff Irvine indicated that the club would not seek promotion under the current circumstances and expressed no desire to leave their current residence at Goldington Road.

The MSC are set by the Professional Game Board (PGM), a joint group comprised from members from the RFU, Premiership Rugby, RFU Championship clubs and the Rugby Players Association.

The MSC has caused a huge amount of debate and legal argument in recent years, with London Welsh having their promotion to the Aviva Premiership initially blocked in 2012 when it was decided that they did not have primacy of tenure for their shared ground with Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium, a decision later overturned on appeal on the grounds that the rules governing primacy of tenure "infringed UK and European law". The successful appeal came at the cost of current semi-finalists Newcastle Falcons.

The financial reputation of rugby league was in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons in 2012 and has continued into 2013, with the RFL making the news once again.

The downfall and resurrections of Super League teams Bradford Bulls and Salford City Reds have been well documented by the media, and both have begun the season with a winning start.  However, the financial issues that have been commonplace amongst Super League clubs have not been subjected to an overnight fix, with a recent BBC ‘Inside Out’ investigation revealing that Super League clubs are facing combined debts in excess of £60m.  

Sports finance expert Rob Wilson, from Sheffield Hallam University, believes that it is not disproportionate when claiming that rugby league clubs are staring into what he describes as the ‘financial abyss’.  Gary Hetherington, chief executive of six-time Super League champions Leeds Rhinos, insists that the problem lies with financial management at club level, rather than an inherent defect in the sport’s current commercial model.

 "The product on the field has never been better, the crowds are very strong, the TV audiences are very strong, the game itself is as good as it's ever been," Hetherington told the BBC.

"We don't want that overshadowed by incompetence at club level - and that's what we've seen in recent years.

"We need to rid ourselves of poor management practices. All clubs have a real responsibility, a real role to play. The majority of clubs are working hard. It's some of the others that have let the sport down, quite frankly."

The RFL director of standards and licensing Blake Solly agreed that the on-field product is not the problem: "Attendances were at an all-time high in 2012, more people saw the game on television than ever before and the RFL was able to make record levels of financial disbursements to clubs."

The BBC report came days before the RFL appointed Brian Barwick as the new non-executive chairman. The ex FA chairman intends to use his far reaching and influential contact book to further promote rugby league and assist clubs in turning around the financial deficit.  

With the Rugby League World Cup being held in England and Wales later on this year, many feel that this could be the key to stabilising the sport’s financial future through an increase in commercial income, while simultaneously attracting stable sponsors and partners. However, if the opinions voiced by Gary Hetherington and shared by others are in fact true, an increase in revenue may not be the resolution to the financial problems that clubs are looking for, with their long-term financial stability reliant on sound financial management at club level.

 

By Emily Shotton