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SBD Global/September 12, 2013/Events and Attractions

Heineken Cup Rugby Tournament In Danger As England, France Plan New Event

A proposed two-nation tournament has put the future of the Heineken Cup in jeopardy.
The Heineken Cup, "one of professional rugby's biggest success stories, was driven closer to oblivion" when the leading clubs in England and France announced that planning "was under way for a rival two-nation tournament to be launched next season," according to Chris Hewett of the London INDEPENDENT. In a "fierce declaration of intent," England and France gave provincial and regional teams in the other "major European nations -- Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy -- a maximum of six weeks to join them in their new venture." Premier Rugby CEO Mark McCafferty said, "We made it clear more than a year ago that we would withdraw from the Heineken Cup as it is currently constituted at the end of this season." Together with the French, the other "major financial drivers in the European club game," the English clubs have long been "dissatisfied with the structure of the Heineken Cup, arguing that the qualification process is loaded against them and complaining of weak performance in both the commercial and governance spheres" (INDEPENDENT, 9/10).

OVERHAUL DEMANDED: In London, Gavin Mairs reported the central demands of the English and French clubs have been an "overhaul of the Heineken Cup including a reduction in the number of teams from 24 to 20 and an equal three-way split in revenue between the Premiership, the French Top 14 and the RaboDirect Pro 12." These demands were "rejected by the Celtic and Italian clubs, and despite more than a year of stakeholder meetings and behind-the-scenes negotiations, the new season has begun with no sign of an agreement." McCafferty said, "We really have to start putting in place something that we can run from 2014-15 onwards. The French are already at round five and we have just started and everyone wants clarity." McCafferty said that discussions with the French clubs "would begin 'almost immediately'" to agree to a format for the new competition, with one option seeing "all 26 clubs from both leagues playing in a competition that would continue to run during the current nine Heineken Cup weekends." BT Sport will televise the new competition as part of its deal "struck last year with the English clubs which will trigger the full payment" of the £152M deal signed last year. McCafferty: "They [BT Sport] want like we do a European competition but are equally clear that an Anglo-French competition will be very strong commercially and sporting wise." The combining of the TV deals in England and France alone "should see the value of the competition rise" from £10M-£30M ($15.8M-$47.5M) per season (TELEGRAPH, 9/10).

REVENUE NEGOTIATIONS AT IMPASSE: In N.Y., Emma Stoney reported the English and French "also want the revenue split equally among the Premiership, the Top 14 and the Pro 12." Under the current rules, the Pro 12 gets 52% of the revenue, while the English and French get 24% each. The Pro 12 teams "do not want to give up their guaranteed spots and the additional revenue, and negotiations have reached an impasse." Pro 12 teams "depend heavily on revenue from European rugby, and any tournament that does not involve English and French sides will be far less attractive to broadcasters" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/11).

'DEMISE WOULD BE UNPOPULAR': The BBC reported European Rugby Cup said that "all parties involved in the consultation process would be represented at a scheduled meeting of its board in Dublin on Wednesday" (BBC, 9/10). The PA reported the Heineken Cup has been "highly successful" since it was introduced in '95 and its "demise would be unpopular" (PA, 9/11).

'NO WINNERS': In Belfast, Niall Crozier opined if the "biggest, most popular and best-supported tournament in northern hemisphere club rugby is allowed to wither and die as a result of intransigence, there will be no winners." Such an outcome "would deal rugby in all six countries a massive blow." What is "at risk of extinction is European rugby's flagship competition." While one is "tempted to say that does not bear thinking about, the polar opposite is true -- it really has to be thought about since unless the matter can be sorted out very soon to everyone's satisfaction, European rugby is going to be dealt a shattering blow eight months from now" (BELFAST TELEGRAPH, 9/11).
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