Fans lose out as Eir pulls sports content from Virgin Media

Row over scheduled contract payments for cancelled sports fixtures comes to a head

Virgin Media is expecting to receive some compensation from Uefa, which could be passed on to Eir. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Virgin Media is expecting to receive some compensation from Uefa, which could be passed on to Eir. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 

The spat between Virgin Media and Eir hit new heights (or lows) this week when the latter pulled its sports channels from Virgin Media’s platform. With a short statement, Eir confirmed it had removed its sports content from Virgin Media, citing contract breaches by the media company.

It wasn’t entirely surprising. The two companies have been engaged in a tense face-off over scheduled contract payments for sports, with Eir refusing to stick to the original terms due to the impact of Covid-19 on sports fixtures. Some of the content due to feature on Virgin Media’s sports channels was postponed or curtailed due to the pandemic, and Eir wants to see its bills reflect that, saying it could only pay for sports events that actually took place. Sources speculated that the rebate being sought was considerable.

Virgin Media is expecting to receive some compensation from Uefa, which could be passed on to Eir. But Virgin Media says this level of compensation has yet to be decided, and has made its position clear: negotiations on any sort of rebate can only take place once the tournaments have been completed and the full impact of the schedule changes on viewers and advertising revenue can be assessed.

While both sides see the merits in their own positions, the impact will be felt by consumers, who have seen their access to certain sporting fixtures curtailed as a result of the row. In the immediate term, it means fans of the Pro 14 Rugby will not be able to see matches scheduled to be shown on Eir Sport, although they may be able to find alternative sources for the highlights at least.

So what happens next? With such a public disagreement between the two companies, and no sign of resolution on the horizon, it is not yet clear if normal business could resume once the matters have been settled, or if the bad feeling caused between the companies – and their customers – is irreparable.