Premier Rugby and ESPN have agreed a three year contract for exclusive live rights to 43 matches per season from the Guinness Premiership, beginning next season and running through to the 2012-2013 season.
The multi-year deal brings 43 live matches to ESPN in UK including exclusive live coverage of the Guinness Premiership Final and one of the two semi-final matches. The agreement also provides highlight rights for use on ESPN digital media such as ESPNScrum.com.
Jon Varney, Commercial Director of Premier Rugby said:
"This deal with ESPN secures a partnership with one of the world's leading broadcasters, who become yet another blue chip supporter of club rugby in England.
"Starting next season, our new television deals mean we have doubled the number of live televised Premiership matches, which will further raise the profile of the sport in the UK and overseas and will allow our clubs and sponsors to derive even greater exposure and value. It also means supporters have more chance to see their team on live television.
"ESPN are renowned for their innovation and we are all genuinely excited about the opportunity of working with them to drive value in both our businesses."
Added Jeroen Oerlemans, Vice President, TV Channels Europe, Middle East and Africa:
"The Guinness Premiership is among the very best UK sports competitions, with a passionate fan base and top quality competition. We're thrilled to add it to our programming schedule and know that it will deliver great value for fans, advertisers and our partners."
The world's most competitive rugby union competition, the Guinness Premiership is the top division for club competition in England.
From its beginnings as the Allied Dunbar Premiership in 1998, the league has established itself as a top global rugby union league and evolved into its current format with relegation to and promotion from the second-tier Championship.
It features the 12 leading clubs in the country. Its regular season runs from September to May and comprises 22 rounds of matches. The teams play each other on a home and away basis during the regular season with the top four sides qualifying for the semi-final.
The top two sides are guaranteed home advantage in the last four with the final staged at Twickenham Stadium.
The agreement adds to ESPN's coverage of rugby in the UK, where it also delivers live coverage of French Top 14 Orange Rugby.
ESPN also recently announced an agreement to show archive matches and footage from each of the six Rugby World Cup tournaments to date on ESPN Classic in the UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa.
The content will be featured on the channel in the coming months and will continue in the run-up to Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand, and beyond.
The Guinness Premiership joins an ESPN programming lineup that is rich in top-quality, exclusive sports.
Launched in August, ESPN features top live football from around the world (Barclays Premier League, FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Premier League, UEFA Europa League, Italian Serie A, Spanish Liga, German Bundesliga, Dutch Eredivisie, Portuguese Liga, Russian Premier League and MLS) as well as UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship, Top 14 Orange rugby, Australian Rules Football (AFL), NHL, NBA, Major League Baseball and more.
Fly-half Billy Burns was named Man of the Match after the 35-14 European Rugby Challenge Cup victory over Stade Rochelais on Thursday evening, and was full of praise for all his team mates for the win after a short turnaround.
Gloucester have been in good form in recent weeks, but Backs Coach Tim Taylor knows that the Cherry and Whites will have to be at their best on Thursday evening (kick off 7:45pm) against a Stade Rochelais side flying high this season.
Speaking to GRTV after the bonus point win over Bristol, back row Lewis Ludlow revealed that despite a tricky first half, Gloucester backed their skills to come through, a faith that was evident in a strong second half showing.
Willi Heinz scored Gloucester's second try as the Cherry and Whites overturned a disappointing first 40 minutes and 0-6 half time deficit, to earn a 26-18 Aviva Premiership victory over Bristol Rugby on Saturday.
Gloucester's much changed side had to overcome conceding an early try on Thursday evening, but responded in style to down Stade Rochelais by 35 points to 14 in the European Rugby Challenge Cup and set up a mouthwatering return fixture next weekend.
After taking 11 points from their last three games in the Aviva Premiership, including bonus point wins against Wasps and Bristol, Gloucester will be looking to continue their good form when they welcome La Rochelle to Kingsholm.