The Gallagher Premiership Rugby season kicks off next weekend looking to top a record-breaking season in 2017/18.
In the opening game of the new year, newly-promoted Bristol Bears host Bath Rugby next Friday evening in front of a crowd of more than 20,000 at Ashton Gate and the live BT Sport cameras for a compelling round of Friday night rugby.
BT Sport kick off their coverage with four live matches on the first weekend, with the West Country showdown followed on Saturday by Gloucester Rugby against Northampton Saints and the Leicester Tigers trip to Exeter Chiefs. Then on Sunday it is time for defending champions Saracens against last year’s semi-finalists Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park.
This season also introduces a new title partner for Premiership Rugby with the competition being renamed Gallagher Premiership Rugby.
Last season was a record-breaking campaign for the Premiership:
- The most tries ever – 776 beat the 750 tallied in 1999/2000
- The most points scored since 1999-2000 with 6,379 points
- The highest live TV audience – for the first time Premiership Rugby on BT Sport had a cumulative audience in excess of 10 million
- The second-largest attendance figures - 1.9 million fans through the turnstiles
- An 11% increase in the average live match audience on BT Sport
- The first club rugby union tournament to air on national television in China after a four-year contract was agreed with free-to-air sports broadcaster CCTV5+
Mark McCafferty, chief executive of Premiership Rugby, said: “The international expansion of Premiership Rugby has been accelerated in recent years and it is fitting that we are now partnering with a global company with an equally strong presence here in the UK. Gallagher will be an excellent partner for us in terms of the group’s ambition, focus on growth and shared values around both business and the community.
“The last decade has seen major growth in Premiership Rugby’s fan base and it is a huge credit to our clubs – and the way they have grown their businesses – that we can announce this new partnership.”
Up to 80 Gallagher Premiership matches will be screened live on BT Sport this season and five will again be shown live on Channel 5, starting with the derby between Saints and Tigers on October 6.
This season brings another significant milestone for Premiership Rugby with news that FreeSports Channel will provide live TV coverage for the new Premiership Rugby Shield.
One live match per round in the Premiership Rugby Shield – which replaces the ‘A’ League – will be broadcast on FreeSports, starting with Exeter Braves away to Saracens Storm on Monday, September 3.
“The Premiership Rugby Shield has gone from strength to strength and an indication of how attractive the competition has become is shown in today's announcement, which sees live TV coverage for the first time in its history,” said Premiership Rugby's head of broadcast, Oliver Lewis.
“Monday Night Rugby will become part of the sport's landscape, very quickly developing an audience on what is a vibrant new sports channel, and we are delighted to partner with them.
“The Premiership Rugby Shield plays a vital role, helping develop the country's best young players and frequently the sides feature Test players alongside them.”
Richard Webb, chief operating officer of FreeSports added: “We are thrilled to confirm that FreeSports will be showing the Premiership Rugby Shield live on free-to-air television in the UK. This deal will allow the league to become more high profile, give it the awareness it deserves and play a crucial role in the development of young rugby players in the UK.