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Saturday, October 12, 2019 5:34:32 PM

Glasgow celebrate a try during their win over Leinster in April. A decent way to warm up for the final. Onto the last four, and a date with Munster at the RDS. What does the formbook say?

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TV deal shock for Ulster rugby fans as games go to pay channel BelfastTelegraph. Rugby round up Newsletter Game previews, plus expert insights and exclusive commentary from the Belfast Telegraph sports team.

Sign Up The deal, which followed on from a pact with Setanta, would see Ulster's games in Ireland shown on BBC2, with the remainder to be aired on red button services as long as they were covered by partners in the relevant countries.

It soon morphed into the deal we know today, where to date every one of Ulster's games this season has been aired on the Beeb, even when also shown on Sky Sports.

Leinster and Ulster to feature on Virgin's free

Cash is king now though, even when that means fewer eyeballs, and it will be all change next year with Guinness PRO14 broadcast rights set to go to Premier Sports, owned by the Luxembourg-registered Premier Media.

BBC NI staff in Belfast were told yesterday that the broadcaster will not be showing live Ulster Rugby games next season despite an increased bid. That's a real shame for a game here that goes from commercial strength to commercial strength.

Competing with football and Gaelic games, as well as the major sports in this province, the blossoming of Ulster into an organisation averaging more than 14, through the gate for each home game is one area the under-fire organisation can rightly boast of their achievements.

TV deal shock for Ulster rugby fans as games go to pay channel

Attendances have been down of late, and of course there is an argument that without the option to watch from the comfort of the sofa numbers may trend upwards again, but there is a lot to be said for ease of access when it comes to winning new fans.

When a youngster happens across the likes of Jacob Stockdale on TV, a desire to see him in the flesh becomes a natural next step, and sports like cricket, Formula One and boxing have all shown the fine balance that must be struck between more money up front and continued exposure.

There can be no doubt that, while success is the ultimate driver of interest, the BBC have been good for Ulster Rugby. A weekly two-hour showcase of your product on prime-time TV available to every house in the UK?

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And they're paying you? For many, commentator Jim Neilly is the voice of Ulster Rugby, his distinctive tones filling Friday evenings from September through May.

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Local pundits such as Stephen Ferris, too, have proven adept in transitioning from making headlines to discussing them in a manner that strikes a chord with their partisan viewers.

By all accounts, the BBC seriously upped the ante when it came to their efforts to keep a hold of the rights but it was not to be enough as the league continue to search for ways to bridge the gap between the big-money TV deals enjoyed by teams in England and France.

TV deals have never been richer, nor has it ever cost more to support your side.

While Ulster have frozen season ticket prices for next season, that comes with the caveat that there could be one fewer home game in what may also be a campaign with no Champions Cup rugby. The need to open the wallets once again will be yet another thing sure to rankle with fans in a season that has already provided a number of hammer blows.

With such negotiations the purview of league bosses rather than the teams themselves, this is one occasion when the finger of blame cannot be pointed in the direction of BT6 and the key point in all of this will be just how much more Premier Sports have been willing to pay and where it will go.

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Increased money for the likes of Ulster in the short-term is certain, but at what actual cost? The province and the PRO14 may well just have to hope it's not quickly a case of out of sight, out of mind.

Belfast Telegraph.

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