Coca-Cola sponsorship cut when Premiership airs late

Coca-Cola is to slash its £40 million sponsorship of ITV's

The Premiership in response to the network's retreat from its

controversial 7pm slot.

The soft drinks giant negotiated a two-tier sponsorship deal when it

stumped up to back the Des Lynam-fronted coverage before the start of

the season. ITV's decision to surrender family audiences and move The

Premiership to a male-dominated 10.30pm slot allows Coke to rip up the

original contract and move to a cheaper deal.

Media buyers reacted positively to news that the network would repeat

the broadcast at 9.25am on Sunday, but warned that ITV must make the

right substitution when revamping Saturday night.

"It would be good for it to package the two up as not many people are

going to watch it twice," MediaVest's managing director, Chris Locke,

said. "The problem is that it hasn't got a plan B. I don't think the BBC

will be too worried about Cilla Black, although ITV does have more

flexibility if it wants to schedule a movie."

The Premiership failed to recover from a disastrous opening when only

4.5 million viewers tuned in and the tabloid newspapers devoted front

pages to attacking the coverage.

"Had the market been different it could have been a brave move that

worked," BBJ's broadcast director, Chris Boothby, said. "But there was

lots of pressure from clients and ITV didn't have the confidence to push

it through."

The Premiership will move to its new schedule on 17 November.

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