Whitbread forces ITV to cut rugby sponsorship fee

Whitbread has forced ITV to renegotiate its 1m broadcast sponsorship rugby deal, featuring the Heineken brand, which the two parties signed only last month.

Sources say Whitbread was furious that matches on Saturday November 29 and last Saturday December 6 were shown as edited highlights instead of “as live” (shortly after being shown live on BSkyB), as the company had been assured.

ITV decided to cut the rugby coverage because ratings were not high enough to justify the programme’s peaktime Saturday evening slot.

Whitbread head of sponsorship Jeremy Wilton is understood to have called all parties back to the table when he was made aware of the situation. He is believed to have brought down the cost of the contract from 1m to 800,000.

ITV, Whitbread, media buying agency Motive (which coincidentally buys for both ITV and Whitbread) and ITV sales house TSMS were all involved in the talks.

A source involved in the negotiations says: “I can see Whitbread’s point of view. That package was sold by ITV on an ‘as-live’ basis.”

It is thought that ITV has the right to broadcast the rugby in an “as-live” form or as highlights. An ITV spokeswoman says: “This was in the best interests of all our viewers.”

Under the contract, Heineken is sponsoring a series of four England internationals before Christmas against South Africa, Australia and two against New Zealand. It will also sponsor next year’s Five Nations’ tournament which involves England, France, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

ITV says it has yet to decide whether the Five Nations matches will be shown as highlights or in the “as-live” format.

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