Eir has said it will not take part in the latest rounds of sports rights auctions, citing fundamental changes to the commercial model for subscription-based sports broadcasters. The decision creates significant uncertainty for the group’s paid sports service, Eir Sport, with Eir saying it is “exploring options” for its future.
In a statement on Thursday evening, Eir pointed to the impact of Covid-19 on live sports across the world, noting that matches and competitions have been postponed throughout the last year, thus limiting the supply of content for the service to broadcast.
“In addition the almost complete closure of licensed premises here in Ireland has fundamentally changed the commercial model for subscription-based sports broadcasters,” Eir’s statement said.
“As we navigate these challenges, Eir has made the decision not to partake in the latest rounds of sports rights auctions,” it added. The company noted however that there is “no immediate change” to Eir Sport content.
The Irish broadcast rights for the UEFA Champions League are expected to be announced shortly, while the rights for coverage of the Six Nations rugby competition from 2022 onwards will likely be decided by the end of April. All GAA rights are also out to tender this year.
The difficult situation for Eir Sport was underlined in Eir’s results for the second half of 2020, which showed a 47 per cent drop in TV and content revenues from €22 million to €12 million.
Eir has had a presence in sports broadcasting since 2016, when it acquired Setanta Sports and rebranded it to Eir Sport as part of a strategy to use exclusive sports rights to sell broadband. At that stage, the group’s largest shareholder was US hedge fund Anchorage but it has since been taken over by French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel.
Eir Sport’s appeal will have been reduced by the 2019 loss of its contract to distribute BT Sport and thus the rights to the English Premier League. Eir Sport was also no longer available to Virgin Media pay-TV customers after a dispute between the two companies last year.