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SHOCK DECISION Eir quitting sports broadcasting after revenue cut in half

In a statement, Eir said the Covid-19 pandemic and the related closure of pubs had made the Eir Sport business model effectively unviable and that the company was exploring future options for the service.

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Heavy hit: Eir had secured the Irish rights to the Guinness Pro 14 Rugby in 2018, but that contract is running out this year. Photo: Gareth Everett/Sportsfile

Heavy hit: Eir had secured the Irish rights to the Guinness Pro 14 Rugby in 2018, but that contract is running out this year. Photo: Gareth Everett/Sportsfile

Heavy hit: Eir had secured the Irish rights to the Guinness Pro 14 Rugby in 2018, but that contract is running out this year. Photo: Gareth Everett/Sportsfile

Eir has decided not to participate in the latest round of sports rights auctions, effectively calling time on the company's foray into subscription-based sports broadcasting and casting doubt on the future of Eir Sport.

In a statement, Eir said the Covid-19 pandemic and the related closure of pubs had made the Eir Sport business model effectively unviable and that the company was exploring future options for the service.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on live sports across the world. Matches and competitions have been cancelled or postponed throughout the last year, disrupting the availability of live sports content,” the statement said.

"In addition, the almost complete closure of licensed premises here in Ireland has fundamentally changed the commercial model for subscription-based sports broadcasters. As we navigate these challenges, eir has made the decision not to partake in the latest rounds of sports rights auctions.

"There is no immediate change to the content provided by eir sport. We are currently exploring options for the future of eir sport."

Eir Sport staff were told of the decision this morning.

The change follows a difficult period for Eir Sport during which revenue was cut in half during the second six months of 2020.

TV and content revenue fell 47pc to €12m from €22m due to the effects of Covid-19 and the loss of content rights, the company said in its most recent results statement last month.

That figure is a fraction of the €297m in revenue at Eir in the three months to the end of December and signifies the relative importance of sports television within the larger telecommunications group.

Eir Sport's withdrawal from the next round of auctions brings to a close a relatively short period of involvement in sports broadcasting for the company, which was part of a strategy to pitch itself as a supplier of services and content.

Eir entered the fray with the acquisition of Setanta Sports in 2015, immediately giving it a toehold in the sports landscape.

The company successfully secured the Irish rights to the Guinness Pro 14 Rugby in 2018, but that contract is running out this year.

Eir Sport also had the rights to the men's Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the women's tournament in 2017, which was hosted by Ireland.

In addition, the six channels broadcast a variety of English and European soccer, the League of Ireland and Allianz League GAA.

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Signs of trouble began to appear last year when Eir and Virgin Media, which had each agreed in 2019 to broadcast the other's sports channels on their platforms through 2021, fell out over payments.

Virgin sued Eir in December alleging it was owed €2.5m of a total €6m three-year consideration dating back to July 2020.

Virgin pulled its feed from the Eir network in August, apparently in response to the missed payment, but Eir insisted at the time it could "only pay for the sports events that actually take place" – a reference to the numerous event cancellations caused by the pandemic.

Two weeks later, Eir withdrew its own feed from Virgin's platform.

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