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BT Vision takes on Sky Sports in Heineken Cup coverage battle

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BT Vision is taking on Sky Sports in a battle for the rights to show the Heineken Cup 2014. Grant Best, senior channel executive producer for BT vision, says the company “wanted to be a part of the competition in 2014, whatever that competition becomes”. BT Vision has already purchased exclusive rights to the English Premiership, amounting to 69 matches a season for four years, and is committed to showing the French tournament equivalent Top 14. Heineken Cup stakeholders have tried to head off what they saw as an English coup by negotiating with Sky Sports over a contract extension. But English and French clubs have said they will walk away from the tournament at the end of 2014 if discussions regarding qualification, commercialism and governance did not bear fruit. It seems that BT Vision, which has also secured rights to some 38 Premier League football matches and much women’s tennis, is in a strong position. It could get at least some access to the Heineken Cup, the “jewel in the crown” of rugby tournaments. Reports suggest the company is willing to pay around £50 million of new money. English clubs have gone on record to state that any European games after the end of next season will be broadcast by their new partner. Mr Best added: “We believe the concentration of club rugby in one place will give us the strongest chance of maximising audiences.” Lawrence Dallaglio has already been unveiled as one of BT’s new rugby commentary team and he believes there is scope to bring rugby union to a new audience. He and colleagues will bring a more interactive style to the coverage and attempt to bring the people of rugby, players and referees, into the open. “We need to get a little bit away from being seen as an elitist middle class sport and attract other viewers,” Mr Dallaglio said. “The game has to de-complicate itself without losing the essence of what attracts traditional fans and put the viewers at the heart of the experience." But Sky Sports news is not expected to give up without a fight and the battle could continue over summer. The flames could be fanned by BT Vision boss Marc Watson commenting last September that the firm is looking to set up or help set up a new European tournament. He said such a tournament would be the successor to the Heineken Cup and would hopefully include all the best clubs.

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